by Sharon Thorsland
The long-anticipated season opener is finally here for the Panthers, who will kick off the 2022 campaign on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. And thanks to the witty NFL schedulers, their opponent will be none other than the Cleveland Browns, who of course is the former team of the Panthers new quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
Now that Mayfield’s replacement Deshaun Watson has been suspended for the first 11 games of the season, it will be veteran Jacoby Brissett starting for the Browns. The former NC State standout has spent most of his career as a backup, so look for the Browns to lean on their vaunted run game for this game, especially since rain is in the forecast. The Browns have an outstanding pair of running backs in Pro Bowlers Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who helped Cleveland average over 145 yards per game last season. And slowing them down will be no easy task. “They’re great, they run vertical,” said Panther defensive tackle Derrick Brown. “When they’re trying to stretch plays out and they get their shoulders square, they’re going, they’re going downhill. Playing against backs like that is a great challenge.”
Playing against Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney will also be a great challenge. The Brown’s All-Pro edge rushers combined for 25 sacks last season. They’ll provide plenty of pressure on Mayfield, so will the Brown’s secondary, which is anchored by a pair of Pro Bowlers in cornerback Denzel Ward and safety John Johnson. “They’re good, let’s not forget about them,” said Panther receiver Rashard Higgins, who spent his first six seasons in Cleveland. “They’ve got an All-Pro corner, you got guys like JJ, those guys are respected. We gotta come out and be on our best game.”
The Panthers will definitely have to play their best game to beat the Browns, even without Deshaun Watson on the field. The Browns have play makers at every position, they’re facing their former quarterback, and they’re trying to snap a streak of not winning a week one matchup since 2004. Of course, the Panthers want to win no matter who they’re facing, but Mayfield admits this one would mean a little more. “It would mean that I came here and did what I was trying to do, said Mayfield. “I came here to win ballgames, and starting out 1-0 is the goal. Put this one to bed and move on to the next one.”