Make no doubt about it: Cam Newton is expecting some special things from the Carolina Panthers’ offense this season.
So he was encouraged to see his first-team offense bounce back from a lackluster performance last week with an impressive showing Friday night in a 23-17 win over the Miami Dolphins, an effort which could prove to be a springboard for the rest of the season.
Carolina’s first team offense was near perfect in scoring two touchdowns and a field goal in three possessions before getting the rest of the night off. That’s the type of efficiency the Panthers had come to expect last year after finishing the season seventh in the league in total offense and fifth in points scored.
”It was a big difference between this week and last week,” Newton said.
Newton led Carolina’s high-powered offense to 17 first-quarter points and outplayed rookie Ryan Tannehill, who was making his first preseason start for the Dolphins.
Newton looked extremely sharp, completing 8 of 11 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers jumped all over the injury-depleted Dolphins’ defense early.
Last year’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year threw a touchdown pass to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart scored on a 2-yard plunge before he and the rest of the Carolina starting offense exited with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
”Last week I felt kind of rushed,” Newton said. ”Coach (Ron Rivera) told me I wasn’t going to be in that long and I kind of panicked to a degree. I didn’t let the game come to me. Today I knew I had a lot more time to work and when you know that you’re in there for longer than a couple of series you try to let the game come to you.”
Tannehill had an inconsistent night for the Dolphins.
He played the entire first half and led six possessions, four of which ended in three-and-out. He found himself under heavy duress most of the game as the Panthers sacked him three times and batted down three balls at the line of scrimmage.
He finished 11 of 23 for 100 yards.
The one promising highlight for Dolphins fans came on Miami’s third possession when Tannehill completed three third-and-long passes to keep the drive alive. Running back Daniel Thomas culminated the 15-play, 71-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Tannehill believes the Dolphins have the potential to be a quality offensive team.
”We’re this close,” Tannehill said, holding his finger and thumb a half-inch apart. ”It’s so close, and it’s frustrating, but you can get past it. It’s a preseason game, and you’re that close. If we can go out and cut back one mistake each drive, we’ll be moving the ball down the field and scoring points.”
After the game, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his starting quarterback remains uncertain and that he’s still not sure when veteran David Garrard will be back on the field.
”We’re going to watch the tape, take a good hard look, and see where we are,” Philbin said.
Matt Moore didn’t do anything to help his own cause. He completed 5 of 15 passes for 57 yards. Fourth-stringer Pat Devlin made the best of his limited action with a 6-yard touchdown pass to rookie Rishard Matthews. Devlin had a chance to win the game but his final pass was intercepted in the end zone by R.J. Stanford with 4 seconds left.
There’s no doubt about who is the Panthers starting quarterback.
Newton didn’t run at all this game — he didn’t need to — but found plenty of open receivers.
After Carolina’s first drive ended with a 49-yard field goal by Justin Medlock, Newton led two crisp and effective touchdown drives. He connected on passes of 15 yards to Brandon LaFell and 18 yards to tight end Ben Hartsock to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Stewart.
A 39-yard pass interference penalty on Miami cornerback Sean Smith led to Carolina’s next score as Newton rolled out and found Williams for a 9-yard touchdown pass. Williams caught the ball in stride, raced around right end and dived to get the ball inside the pylon for a 17-0 lead.
”To be able to come out of the game at the end of the first quarter because things were going well is ideal,” Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. ”It was a good performance offensively. It would have been fun to see what we could have done if we had more time.”
Philbin isn’t pleased with the play of his defense through two games.
”Our biggest concern is getting off the field,” Philbin said. ”We haven’t stopped anybody yet. We haven’t gotten off the field on third down, we haven’t tackled real well. We haven’t had a lot of pass rush. I guess I’d better stop there.”