Carolina Panthers: Newton's Performance Makes Opener Best Loss in Team History

Christopher WilliamsContributor IISeptember 11, 2011

Cam Newton silenced critics once again in his NFL debut
Cam Newton silenced critics once again in his NFL debutNorm Hall/Getty Images

The running game was non-existent. The defense gave up too many big plays. But from a fans' perspective, the Panthers are starting out the season 1-1.

The Panthers lost a late lead and couldn't quite recover, losing to the Cardinals 28-21. The box score tells the story of Carolina's woes:

Their normally dangerous backfield duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for only 56 yards on 19 carries. The defense held Larry Fitzgerald to three catches and forced a red zone turnover in the second quarter, but giving up three touchdowns of over 45 yards (48, 70, 89) marred their otherwise solid performance.

But the box score also tells the story of Cam Newton and his record-setting rookie debut. Newton went 24-for-37, with 422 yards, two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. He becomes the first ever rookie to throw for over 400 yards in his NFL debut, breaking Peyton Manning's previous record of 302. That's fantastic company to be in and will increase the already intense spotlight that's been on him since last season at Auburn.

So what can we really take from a rookie quarterback's first NFL game? I'd say a lot considering how well he was all-around. He showed great pocket presence and spread the wealth around (Olsen, LaFell and Shockey all went over 50 yards receiving).

But the biggest positive of Newton was his chemistry with Steve Smith. They rarely hooked up during the preseason but they certainly made up for it today, as Newton found Smith eight times for 178 yards and two touchdowns. In order for Newton to build off of today's performance, he'll need to hook up with No. 89 plenty more times this season.

Another bright side to today's game is that the rest of the NFC South is also 0-1. Carolina's next three games are against Green Bay, Jacksonville and Chicago. They'll want to win two of those, before starting their divisional games. There's never been so much optimism after a Panthers loss. When a team is coming off of the league's worst record, the success of their No. 1 pick normally overshadows the game. Today is no different: Cam Newton is the real deal and today's loss showed potential for long-term victories.