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Panthers got their kicks, but must finish more often

(TSX / STATS) -- CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite the Carolina Panthers having their way at times in the opener, there's a priority on finishing drives.

That might be necessary in order for there to be success in the second game of the season when the Buffalo Bills visit for Carolina's home opener.

The Panthers settled for three short field goals in the 23-3 victory against the San Francisco 49ers. It was easy to identify spots where more points could have been scored.

"You want to get points on the board, but you'd much rather get touchdowns," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We missed a couple of opportunities for big plays, but that's part of it."

The oddity was that the Panthers were relatively efficient on third downs, with a 53.8 percent rate ranking fourth in the NFL in the first week.

So, the goal will be looking for plays that can result in bigger rewards.

The Panthers admit they didn't use an expansive playbook in the first game. Still, quarterback Cam Newton was 6-for-6 on second-half passing against the 49ers.

Rivera said there was good rhythm with play-calling. He also sensed there was confidence in what the Panthers were doing.

"I thought the players were really buying into it," he said of the offensive strategy. "It is about execution."

The Bills, who have first-year head coach Sean McDermott, will be well aware of Carolina's tendencies. That's because McDermott was the team's defensive coordinator from 2011-16.

So, while in control of the game against the 49ers, it made sense that the Panthers kept things bland to a degree.

The Panthers always seem to appreciate a grind-it-out style. Rivera said he was encouraged enough by many of the good throws Newton made and those could help turn into more points in the future.

--Defensive end Julius Peppers will play an NFL regular-season game for the home team at Bank of America Stadium for the first time since 2009, when the Panthers meet the Buffalo Bills. He was drafted in the first round by the Panthers in 2002.

Peppers' role won't likely be as expansive as it was earlier in his career. He's part of a likely platoon system along the defensive front.

But after staying quiet and away from interviews during training camp, the 37-year-old might be more willing to talk now that there are games to discuss.

"Now we have something to talk about," Peppers said.

--The Panthers hope that they're in good order in terms of figuring out opponents, particularly with the first two games coming against teams with new head coaches.

Carolina passed the test against the San Francisco 49ers. It might be a bit trickier against the Buffalo Bills, with former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott now in charge of the Bills.

Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said that in the preseason it was important to consider more of the unknown elements than perhaps at other times.

"In training camp, we've gone against all kinds of defenses," Rivera said.

NOTES: RB Jonathan Stewart is within range of becoming the franchise's all-time leading rusher. He has gained 6,703 yards, trailing only DeAngelo Williams' 6,846 yards from 2006-14. ... DT Vernon Butler missed the opener as he continues to recover from a knee injury suffered in the first preseason game. He has picked up his pace in practice and it's possible he could be available for the second game of the regular season. ... CB Kevon Seymour has a quick reunion with his former team as he was acquired from the Bills following the final preseason games. ... WR Brenton Bersin, who was used mostly on special teams, reached an injury settlement and was one of four players released. Bersin has been associated with the team since he was an undrafted free agent in 2012 out of Wofford, which is owner Jerry Richardson's alma mater. ... OL Gino Gradkowski figured to have a chance to make the roster, but he ended up on injured reserve and cut ties with the organization this week after reaching an injury settlement.

Updated September 13, 2017

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