CHARLOTTE — Deshaun Watson shined in his NFL preseason debut, completing 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and running for a score in the Houston Texans' 27-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night.
Watson, who led Clemson to the ACC championship on this field last December en route to the national championship, received a rousing ovation from Tigers fans dressed in orange when he entered the game in the second quarter.
The cheers were even louder when Watson outran two defenders for a 15-yard touchdown — although Panthers fans tried to cover the celebration with boos.
Houston's first-round draft pick looked comfortable in the pocket, stepping up to avoid pressure and getting rid of the football in a timely manner. He didn't let penalties on his team affect him and didn't turn the ball over in nearly three quarters of play.
Tom Savage went three-and-out on his first two possessions against Carolina's first-team defense. Savage had better luck with Carolina's starters out of the game, completing 8 of 8 passes for 67 yards on his final drive capped by a 16-yard TD run by Alfred Blue.
But it was a strong showing for Carolina's defensive starters.
"We put ourselves in good third down situations and we were able to execute and get off the field," Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. "Overall, the first half, the ones definitely had a good showing."
Panthers veteran backup Derek Anderson looked sharp starting in place of Cam Newton, who's still resting a sore right shoulder.
Anderson completed 4 of 5 passes for 76 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to finish with a perfect 158.3 QB rating.
The 6-foot-5 Benjamin, who reported to training camp in good shape after being overweight in the spring, made a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone to give Carolina the early 7-0 lead.
"I am feeling good again," Benjamin said. "I am ready to get Cam (Newton) back out there so we can rebuild that chemistry."
Watt, Kuechly return
Two former NFL Defensive Players of the Year returned to action after missing significant time last season with injuries.
J.J. Watt played one series for the Texans in his return from back surgery, which cost him 13 games last season. Kuechly returned after missing the final six games last season with his second career confirmed concussion.
Neither player registered a tackle.
Along with Newton, veteran defensive ends Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, center Ryan Kalil and rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel did not suit up for Carolina.
Texans: Rookie linebacker Dylan Cole appeared to return a fumble for a touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but the play was overturned and ruled an incompletion.
Panthers: Christian McCaffrey had 33 yards on seven carries in his rookie debut. McCaffrey showed impressive quickness and the ability to make defenders miss in his brief action.