Panthers QB Newton answers skeptics but more tests await
MIAMI (Reuters) - Rookie quarterback Cam Newton's record-breaking National Football League debut suggests the Carolina Panthers were wise to take a gamble on him and that he may prove the skeptics wrong.
Newton became the first quarterback to throw over 400 yards in his debut on Sunday but, despite his efforts, the Panthers fell 28-21 to the Arizona Cardinals.
Still, the former Auburn quarterback showed his quality from his first touchdown pass, a magnificent 77-yard bomb to receiver Steve Smith.
Last year's Heisman Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in college football not only surpassed Peyton Manning's record of 302 yards for a rookie quarterback in his debut, he also equaled the passing record for a rookie in any game -- set by Detroit's Matthew Stafford in 2009.
On top of completing 24 of 37 passes, with two touchdowns and one interception, Newton also managed a rushing touchdown, showing flashes of the athleticism that was so central to his play in the college game.
The numbers were the perfect response to those who have wondered whether he might be merely the latest rookie to arrive in the NFL with a game that was perfect for the open college format but less useful in the more disciplined and tactically challenging professional game.
"He was everything everybody didn't expect him to be," said Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who caught both of Newton's touchdown passes.
"He was on point, he made some great runs, he made some great reads, made some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that, honestly, as a receiver, it made it easy to catch them."
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who has been charged with turning around what was the worst team in the NFL last season, was pleased with the debut of the man who is a key to hopes of a revival.
"What we saw on tape from his college days was outstanding, and he carried it over as a professional. He was very efficient, very effective," said Rivera.
"He's got a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I couldn't be more pleased with a rookie performance. He gave us an opportunity to win."
It was not a perfect debut though, and not only because of the result, as Newton was unable to convert on a key drive with the Panthers well positioned to score near the end of the game and he did suffer four sacks.
"One thing I still have to work on is trust," Newton told reporters, "I'm surrounded by a ton of talent, from (Jeremy) Shockey to (Greg) Olsen to the backs in the backfield and the receivers, so I just have to trust.
"The offensive line did an excellent job and gave me the time when I needed it. I've got to get the ball out of my hands."
Rivera also acknowledged that Newton has plenty left to discover about himself and his team.
"As each week goes hopefully he will take another step. The truth is that we are a young football team and as we improve as a team, he will improve as a player," said Rivera. "We are young, we are growing, we need to learn from our mistakes."
The NFL is a tough place to learn from mistakes and Newton and the Panthers will need little reminding of that this week as they prepare for their home opener against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on September 18.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)