Newton answers questions about his game – for now

Questions regarding Panthers rookie Cam Newton have turned from
if he’ll be a good NFL quarterback to how good he’ll be.

At least for now.

In his NFL debut, Newton ignited a Carolina offense that
finished last in the NFL in total offense, passing yards and
scoring last season by throwing for 422 yards – the most ever by a
rookie quarterback in his first career start. His passing total was
one yard shy of the team record set by Chris Weinke and the
fourth-highest opening day total in NFL history.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday that Newton ”exceeded
expectations” on Sunday, but cautioning that there will be tougher
times ahead for the Heisman Trophy out of Auburn.

”We still have some things to work on,” Rivera said.

Newton threw touchdown passes of 77 and 26 yards to 32-year-old
Steve Smith and ran for another score, although his bid for a
game-tying drive in the final minute fell a yard short and the
Panthers lost 28-21 to the Arizona Cardinals.

”He’s just one of those guys when he gets in the game, there’s
just something about him,” tight end Greg Olsen said. ”There’s
some guys that have it, and some don’t.”

Newton had it on Sunday.

He completed 24 of 37 passes, answering lingering questions
about his accuracy issues. Newton completed just 40.4 percent of
his passes during the preseason.

Smith said Newton answered a lot of questions.

”He did everything everybody didn’t expect him to do. He was on
point,” Smith said. ”He made some great runs, some great reads
and some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that,
honestly as a receiver, it made it easy to catch them.”

It’s clear the Panthers’ offense won’t look like it did last
year under offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.

The Panthers weren’t afraid to go to the air on third downs and
regularly took shots down the field, one resulting in Newton’s
77-yard hookup with Smith, who finished with 178 yards receiving
and two touchdowns.

Newton may have made a believer out of some of this critics, but
his teammates have always been in his corner.

”Everybody believes in him,” two-time Pro Bowl left tackle
Jordan Gross said. ”We’re never looking around wondering who’s
going to make the play. I know our receivers believe in him as
well. He’s our quarterback and he’s taken that by the reins and led
the charge.”

Newton downplayed his own success after the game, continually
turning questions about his success into talk that he needs to
improve.

”There’s going to be a lot more things I can look back on …
after I watch the film,” Newton said. ”One thing I know right now
is you have to capitalize. When you’re in the red zone you can’t
take a sack, you can’t digress. You have to capitalize and get
points when it matters.”

Smith said this is just the beginning of what the Panthers can
accomplish as an offense in Rob Chudzinski’s new scheme.

”I think it could be better,” Smith said. ”We were off at
some times. This is the disadvantage of having a lockout.”

Added Gross: ”I mean he did all of that and he didn’t even
really scramble and do anything with his legs. That will come. I’m
excited to be on a team with him. Our offense is much improved and
I expect us to get a lot better next week.”

That’s a strong statement about Newton and the Panthers, who
host the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in their
home opener at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

But Gross said he was impressed, but unlike some others, not
surprised with Newton’s early success.

”He’s had the world on his shoulders for a year now and I think
he’s sort of getting used to it,” Gross said. ”It was a tough
game. He got hit a lot and there was a lot of crowd noise. He had
incredible composure against all odds. He was as advertised.”

Despite all the excitement about Newton’s performance, the
Panthers lost. And the rookie QB will face a complex scheme led by
Packers defensive coordinator and former Panthers head coach Dom
Capers.

”We performed well, but not well enough to win. That’s a
stinger, but we have a lot to build on,” Smith said. ”You don’t
want to be hangdog, but you also don’t want to walk around and
strut your stuff.

”We’ve got a lot of work to do.”