There's been a lot of drama surrounding the Panthers quarterback battle this offseason and we may finally have some closure on that situation.
After the Steelers opened up with a discouraging touchdown drive that quieted one of the liveliest crowds I've seen this preseason, Cam Newton walked on the field. His performance against the Bengals in Week Three was awful so it was clearly important that he end the preseason with a solid performance and leave Panthers fans and coaches with a good taste in their mouths.
His first play was reassuring; an eight yard bullet to free agent signee Legedu Naanee who promptly took a few steps in the wrong direction—a six yard gain in all.
After a shifty run by Jonathan Stewart and a personal foul against Pittsburgh, Cam once again dropped back at the 41-yard-line in Steelers' territory. He did a nice job of stepping up into the pocket after linebacker Lamarr Woodley provided pressure off the edge, but was picked up by Jeff Otah in the nick of time. Newton moved to his right as Larry Foote hung onto his legs and falling down, somehow managed to sling the ball 25 yards down field, where Shockey was being vigorously mugged by Ryan Mundy—no penalty flag was thrown though.
Newton drops back once again on 3rd and 10 and a hole opens up on the left side of the line. He takes advantage and darts for 19 yards with Steve Smith—who was on a shallow crossing pattern—as his lead blocker. Both pop up and engage in a "low five"—an encouraging sign in their relationship building process.
Were you highly encouraged by Newton's performance Thursday night?
The Panthers are now 22 yards from the endzone. Newton drops back and quickly sends a missile to Jeremy Shockey on the left sideline, who comes up a hair shy of the first down marker.
We now fast forward two plays. The Panthers line up in a two tight end set and Shockey runs a five-and-curl. Newton swiftly hits him square in the hands and Shockey proceeds to evade defender Ryan Mundy and slips into the endzone for a touchdown—Newton's first passing score of his NFL career.
This is without a doubt Newton's top outing thus far. He made quick drops and put zip on the ball the entire series. He had one miscommunication with Steve Smith, but aside from that, his performance was superb.
This game was more consequential than your typical Week 4 preseason game. Newton is now entrenched at the No. 1 spot and is heading into the season with confidence. He wasn't playing against a lineup of backups or a bottom rate defense. He was playing against the Steelers—possibly the deepest and most technically sound group of veterans in the NFL.
It's finally time to take a comforting sigh of relief Panthers fans—this season may turn out to be more interesting than it initially appeared.