Panthers coach: QB Cam Newton to start team’s home opener against Detroit Lions

Panthers coach says Cam Newton will start the home opener against Detroit

Stew Milne

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton will be back under center for the Carolina Panthers’ home opener Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

Coach Ron Rivera made the announcement Monday after the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback was held out of Carolina’s 20-14 win Sunday at Tampa Bay while recovering from fractured ribs.

Newton is scheduled to return to practice Wednesday after his streak of 48 consecutive starts was snapped.

That means it’s won and done for Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson.

Anderson, a 10-year NFL veteran, stepped in and threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-14 victory, giving Carolina its first win in a season opener since 2008.

Rivera said Newton desperately wanted to play — and tried to convince coaches to let him. He said having to keep the competitive quarterback out against the Buccaneers was "one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make."

But he was confident he made the right decision when he informed Newton on Saturday night he wouldn’t dress.

"In the long run, win or lose, we’re better off now," Rivera said Monday. "He will be another week into his recovery. The doctors were all saying if we can get to this (week) we will all feel more comfortable about his situation."

Newton didn’t talk after the game, telling reporters he didn’t want to steal the attention away from Anderson.

Rivera said Newton told him watching from the sidelines made it the longest game of his life.

At times, Newton couldn’t stand sitting still.

During a television commercial break in the second quarter, Newton, wearing cut off black sweatpants, a long-sleeve black shirt and a Panthers baseball cap, ran on to the field and into the team’s huddle. There he shouted encouragement to his teammates before retreating to the sideline.

The referees had to warn Rivera to keep Newton off the field.

Rivera said he received a call from an NFL spokesman on Monday instructing him to remind him that action is not acceptable. Rivera said he was told Newton would not be subject to a fine.

"That’s who Cam is – he’s excitable guy and he wants to be a part of it," Rivera said. "It’s hard to stop him."

For Anderson, it’s back to the bench.

However, Rivera now knows he has a reliable backup he can count on to win a big game. Anderson looked sharp all day, completing 24 of 34 passes with no interceptions.

Anderson has served as Newton’s backup the last three seasons, but has only thrown four passes during that span.

Rivera said he’s always had faith in Anderson, who was a Pro Bowl quarterback in 2007 for the Cleveland Browns and has started 44 career games.

When he informed Anderson on Saturday night that he would make his first start since 2010, he said the 31-year-old quarterback simply responded "I’m ready to go."

"We are very fortunate," Rivera said. "We have got a couple of really good backup quarterbacks. Derek’s an established quarterback in this league and Joe (Webb) had a great preseason for us, so I felt very comfortable with the situation we were going to have. It gave me some comfort, but at the same time I know who Cam Newton is and I want him on the football field as well.

"Having known that Derek has played in this league and has had a lot of success in this league, I was very comfortable and very confident."

Anderson battled through cramps in his forearms and calves in the second half from the intense Florida heat, but all things considered thought he played pretty well.

He got plenty of help from his defense, which shutout Josh McCown and the Bucs for three quarters.

"It was big," Anderson said. "Personally, I know a lot of those guys in the locker room got my back, so to go out there and not let those guys down, that’s something that pushes me every day."

"It just says a lot about the kind of guy he is and how much pride he takes in preparing every week," said tight end Greg Olsen, who had eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. "It’s been years and he hasn’t gotten his number called, but he’s always been prepared and then a day like today he’s worth his weight in gold."

Rivera said even with Newton on the way back, the team will continue to carry Webb on the roster as a third quarterback.