Kerry Collins got his comeback off to a rip-roaring start Saturday night.
He came out firing -- often and accurately -- in a 30-27 exhibition win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He looked nothing like the ineffective quarterback he was last season. Instead, he looked at home in the new West Coast-style offense.
Before leaving the game late in the first half, Collins completed 16-of-22 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He played five offensive possessions and led the Panthers to two field goals and a touchdown on a 3-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad.
He would have completed nine of his first 10 passes if Muhammad hadn't dropped one he'd thrown perfectly.
Carolina got the win on a 30-yard field goal by John Kasay with four seconds remaining in the game. It barely cleared the uprights due to a bad snap, but the Panthers weren't complaining afterward.
Collins' performance was just the type of confidence-builder he needed after finishing last in the NFL in passing efficiency last season and leading the league in interceptions with 21.
``I thought a lot about this day for the whole off-season,'' Collins said. ``I got a little choked up when I went out there tonight, to be honest with you. I want to do well for these people in Charlotte. Last year didn't go the way any of us wanted.
``I spent so much time thinking about everything that happened last year, but you can't do anything about it (in the off-season). You've got to wait and wait and keep waiting. But then this day finally comes and it's really nice that it's finally here.
``It's only the first game and I hate to be overly optimistic, but there were a lot of good things that happened. I'm feeling pretty good about what's going on around here.''
The victory was exactly what the Panthers were hoping for after going 0-4 in the preseason last year, including a 23-9 loss at Jacksonville.
``I'm proud of the way our team competed,'' Panthers coach Dom Capers said. ``Our players have worked hard the past two weeks, and it was nice to see them get a win. I'm pleased with what I see potentially with our football team.''
While the Panthers' new-look offense moved the ball well through the air, there were some trouble spots:
Carolina wasn't able to run the ball well against the Jaguars' first-team defense. In the first period, when Jacksonville had its starters in, the Panthers managed just 22 yards rushing on 10 carries.
And it didn't get any better in the second quarter against the Jaguars' reserves. The Panthers finished the first half with a paltry 24 yards on 13 attempts.
And you can bet this stat caused the coaches to cringe: All 13 of Carolina's first downs in the opening half came on passing plays.
The Panthers had trouble getting the ball in the end zone. They scored five times in the first half, but four of them were Kasay field goals after drives stalled at the Jaguars' 20-, 6-, 10- and 12-yard lines.
Collins fumbled two snaps from center Frank Garcia. He recovered them both, but each hurt the Panthers' chances at a touchdown and contributed to the offense having to settle for a field goal.
Defensively, the Panthers got first-half sacks out of linebackers Greg Lloyd and Micheal Barrow, but didn't excel in stopping the run against Jacksonville's starters and finished the game with three pass interference penalties.
In the first period, the only time the Jaguars' first-team offensive line was in the game, Carolina gave up 31 yards rushing on six carries by halfback James Stewart. That's a 5.2-yard average, much higher than the Panthers consider acceptable.
Even though Jacksonville has one of the NFL's top offensive lines, Panthers coaches couldn't have liked seeing the holes that were opened for Stewart. One of Carolina's primary objectives in the off-season was improving a run defense that ranked 22nd last season.
The Jaguars' starting offense went 68 yards for a touchdown on its second possession. The drive was aided by a 38-yard pass interference penalty against Carolina free safety Brent Alexander, who bumped into wideout Jimmy Smith before the pass from quarterback Mark Brunell arrived.
Brunell later hit Smith for a 15-yard gain before throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell.
That put Jacksonville ahead 7-0, but Collins responded by quickly by driving the Panthers downfield.