Cam Newton didn’t come close to matching those impressive passing numbers from his first two games. Instead, he overcame a shaky performance by directing a clutch fourth-quarter drive to earn his first NFL victory.
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Newton found Greg Olsen over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 4:20 left to help the Carolina Panthers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 16-10 on Sunday.
Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick, also found Olsen for the ensuing 2-point conversion that helped Carolina rally from a 10-5 halftime deficit. The win also marked the first for coach Ron Rivera with the Panthers.
Newton threw for more than 400 yards in each of the first two weeks, setting an NFL record with 854 yards passing in the opening two games of his career. He finished with just 158 yards on 18-for-34 passing against the Jaguars and their own highly drafted rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert. But he completed all three of his passes on the go-ahead drive for the winning score.
Gabbert, the 10th pick in the draft, threw for 139 yards in his starting debut, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas on the final play of a rain-drenched first half. He even had a chance to snatch the victory away from Newton in the final minute, driving the Jaguars all the way to the Carolina 35-yard line in the final seconds. But Carolina linebacker Thomas Williams batted away Gabbert’s final pass for Jason Hill as the clock expired.
The game was billed as a duel between the highly drafted rookie passers. The Panthers seriously considered taking Gabbert with the top pick before deciding on the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn. The decision has certainly paid off so far, with Newton energizing the Charlotte area while giving the franchise the type of exciting player it has never really had.
He wasn’t sharp early, overthrowing several open receivers and managing to direct only one first-half scoring drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter.
Things didn’t start out well for Gabbert, either. With the Jaguars taking over at their own 10 on their first series, offensive lineman Eugene Monroe was penalized for illegal use of hands to wipe out a chain-moving completion on Gabbert’s first throw. That backed the Jags up even more, and Greg Hardy got past Guy Whimper on the right side to trip up Gabbert in the end zone for a safety.
His next drive wasn’t much better, starting at the Jacksonville 6 and ending when Charles Johnson sacked Gabbert on third down. He got the Jaguars on the board by directing a field goal drive, aided by the Panthers jumping offside on a punt to give Jacksonville a first down after what was going to be a three-and-out.
Conditions got even tougher for both passers when a heavy downpour of rain arrived in the second quarter, sending fans fleeing to the concourse for cover and leaving massive puddles on the field and around the sidelines.
But Gabbert and the Jaguars came up with a stunning scoring drive right before the half, with Thomas catching a long pass from Gabbert and leaping across the goal line as time expired for the 10-5 lead.