CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers edge-rushers Brian Burns and Haason Reddick spent a lot of time thinking about what to wear after Sunday’s opener. Burns donned a bright yellow cap with shoes to match and a lot of bling in between. Reddick rocked a shirt that appeared to be two sewed into one, the right side paisley and the left . . . well, judge for yourself.
They were colorful, to say the least.
The two also spent a lot of time thinking about the lack of respect the Carolina defense got during the preseason, particularly as it pertained to pressuring the quarterback. So after sacking New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson six times in Sunday’s 19-14 victory, they were equally colorful in expressing their thoughts.
“Today, we put the league on notice,’’ Reddick said.
Said Burns, “The strategy was to hit [Wilson] a lot, be in his face a lot, disguise, try to confuse him. Make his first game hell.’’
That they did to the second pick of the draft out of Brigham Young. From the time Burns nailed Wilson on the first drive until linebacker Shaq Thompson got their sixth and final sack with about seven minutes remaining, they swarmed like they never did a year ago.
The 2020 Panthers went sackless the first two games and needed seven games to reach six.
“We have some great guys up front,’’ Reddick said. “Guys that are real dogs and can get after it. That’s what we put out there today. That’s what we put on film. We did what we said we were able to do when we talk to ourselves and how we wanted to go out there and establish who we are. We took care of that today.’’
Granted, this was the Jets, who gave up an average of 32.6 sacks the past three seasons when quarterback Sam Darnold played for them. Those sacks are a big reason why Darnold failed after being the third pick of the 2018 draft and was traded to Carolina.
Of course, a fast start in sacks doesn’t guarantee success. The 1998 and 2018 Panthers opened with six sacks in Week 1 and finished 4-12 and 7-9, respectively.
On the other hand, a fast start can be the catalyst to something special. The ’96 Panthers opened with seven sacks en route to an NFL-best 60 that played a big role in them reaching the NFC Championship in only their second season.
How this group plays out remains to be seen. But it’s obvious they are driven by being overlooked.
ESPN, for example, projected Burns to rank 16th in sacks with 7.4, a year after he led Carolina with nine. Reddick, who had 12.5 sacks for Arizona last season, was projected 35th with 6.3 sacks.
“We talked about it,’’ Reddick said of the lack of respect. “We won’t let it go unnoticed.’’
The Panthers made a concerted effort to improve the pass rush during the offseason. In addition to Reddick, they added tackle DaQuan Jones to play beside 2020 first-round pick Derrick Brown, defensive end Morgan Fox and linebacker Frankie Luvu.
They drafted Jaycee Horn with the eighth overall pick instead of a quarterback because they felt a shutdown corner would allow the front seven more time to rush. They moved 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Chinn from linebacker to safety.
They all contributed Sunday to six players getting at least half a sack, led by Reddick with 1.5. They also had 10 quarterback hits and six tackles for loss.
“We left some sacks out there, honestly,’’ said Burns, who missed at least one other sack. “We could easily have had nine if we had finished.’’
Carolina will need that type of pressure to keep pace with New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints didn’t give up any sacks in a 38-3 rout of Green Bay in which quarterback Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes on just 14 completions.
Reddick believes the pressure will continue.
“When I first signed here and I saw who was on the roster … I already knew we could be special,’’ Reddick said. “I already knew that we had some dogs. … Then on game day, delivering … Everything looks like it’s going to be good.
“As long as we keep getting better, it will be a beautiful thing.’’