CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Now that’s what Cam Newton was expecting.
Newton led Carolina’s high-powered offense to 17 first-quarter points and outplayed rookie Ryan Tannehill on Friday night as the Panthers defeated the Miami Dolphins 23-17 in a preseason game.
After an uninspiring effort last week against Houston, Newton looked extremely sharp completing 8 of 11 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers (No. 20 in the AP Pro32) jumped all over the injury-depleted Dolphins defense early.
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Newton led the Panthers to two touchdowns and a field goal in his three possessions before exiting with 1:12 left in the first quarter along with most of the other starters.
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 as a fired-up Panthers squad avenged a lackluster performance in a 26-13 loss to the Texans.
“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.”
Newton got plenty of help Friday night.
Unlike last week when the Panthers offensive line surrendered eight sacks to Houston, Newton had plenty of time to work through his progressions and find open receivers against a Dolphins defense playing without Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby.
“We kind of came out with a different mentality this week,” Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said. “We’re getting closer and closer to getting in the swing of things as the season approaches.”
Tannehill made his first preseason start for start for the Dolphins (No. 27 in the AP Pro32).
He played the entire first half and led six possessions — four of which ended in three-and-out. He found himself under heavy duress for 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 passing.
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 in the game.
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.”
Panthers backup Derek Anderson also looked sharp, although penalties and dropped passes killed two promising drives. He was 7 of 15 passing for 107 yards leading one drive that resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Olindo Mare giving Carolina a 20-7 lead just before halftime.
Jimmy Clausen struggled for the second straight week for Carolina.
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.”
The game was particularly chippy for the preseason.
Steve Smith and Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis sparred for three consecutive plays early in the game, ultimately resulting in a downfield wrestling match and Davis getting flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
Smith didn’t want to talk about the altercation, but Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith said. “There was definitely a little bit of give and take going on.”
But there were lighter moments as well typifying a preseason game. At one point during the third quarter Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert did the “The Wobble” line dance on the Carolina’s sidelines during a break in action, drawing a huge roar from the home crowd.