Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton played one series and finished the final preseason game being named the starter for the opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 11 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“That is just another reason for me to get better,” Newton said. “That’s a big opportunity and a big responsibility. To be the starter in this league, there is so much that goes into it behind the scenes, and I’ve got to be ready to do that.”
In the Panthers 33-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium, Newton took advantage of his opportunity to show why he should have the starting job.
He completed 3 of 5 passes for 25 yards. And he finished off a nine-play, 71-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown completion to tight end Jeremy Shockey. The 3:47 drive was his best possession of the preseason and was probably the possession that finally convinced Panthers coach Ron Rivera to start the 6-5, 244-pound franchise player.
Newton also showed off his legs on third-and-10 when he avoided a pass rush by stepping up and scrambling for 19 yards. After an incompletion to Steve Smith, Newton took responsibility for the miscommunication. On the next play, Newton found Shockey for a touchdown.
That procession showed more than his ability. It showed his leadership.
“If you’re a leader, you’re a leader, simple and plain,” Newton said. “If you have that ability to make people follow you, that’s what it is. You don’t just flip that switch on and off if it’s a collegiate thing or a professional thing. Either you are or you’re not. Some people have that ability in them.”
Rivera believes Newton has that ability. But during his new conference after the game, he emphasized Newton wasn’t drafted to be the savior. Instead, Rivera said his young quarterback was selected to be a piece to help lead the organization. He wanted everyone to know it was about the team progressing as opposed to just Newton.
More importantly, Newton’s performance allows him to end the preseason positively and with confidence. And Newton’s play was a breath of fresh air because the first team defense continued to struggle.
The Steelers scored on their opening drive. The drive took 10 plays, 80 yards and 5:06. Steelers quarterback Charly Batch, who started in place of Ben Roethlisberger, completed 5 of 6 passes for 50 yards.
He completed a 10-yard pass to Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who fumbled at the 1-yard line after Panthers linebacker James Anderson hit the wideout. But Steelers full back Dave Johnson pounced on the ball for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Despite the loss, the Panthers finished the preseason on a positive note because Carolina has a starter in place. Now, Carolina just has to fix its defensive woes.
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