JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – Cam Newton's preseason debut against the Jaguars was brief and his stat line was modest: 2-for-2 for 21 yards and a touchdown.
But for the Panthers and their franchise quarterback coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, this was a significant step toward the fast-approaching regular season opener.
"It was good. It was just a culmination of a lot of things, really," Newton said. "A great week of practice; guys focusing in. It just showed. A lot of guys were anxious to produce, including myself."
The first drive was a work of art for those who enjoy physical football. Carolina possessed the ball first to start the game and Newton proceeded to hand the ball off six consecutive times.
His first throw was a 12-yard completion to rookie running back Christian McCaffrey on a check down. After two short McCaffrey runs, the Panthers faced third-and-6, and that's when Newton connected with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a quick slant for a 9-yard touchdown.
And with that, Newton's work was done.
"He came into the huddle and said, 'Let's start fast, let's score' and that's what we did," left tackle Matt Kalil said. "Couldn't ask for a better first drive.
"He's an amazing quarterback. That's a big dude, so you definitely feel his presence back there. It felt great. Can't wait to keep it going with him."
Said head coach Ron Rivera: "There is an energy that Cam brings; there is an excitement to the game. He loves football. Just having him out there was exciting. I think the guys felt the energy – I thought it was obvious by that first drive."
Newton would have loved to keep it going Thursday night in Jacksonville, but Rivera said Newton "did what he was supposed to do" and opted to remove him from the game.
"I was excited when they told me that I was able to play. They didn't tell me how much and I just wish I would have played a little longer," Newton said. "I feel behind in a lot of ways. The optimism of this game is that we did have a great first drive."
That great first drive could very well be Newton's one and only drive of the preseason. Ten plays and 75 yards worth of smash-mouth football that culminated with Newton celebrating in the end zone.
"That's Carolina football," Newton said of the series.
If only we could have seen Newton direct a little more it before the real games start. His reps have been limited throughout the summer and he knows there is quite a bit of rust still to shake off.
But the starters hardly ever see any action in the preseason finale. So, if that's indeed the case again for Newton, who hasn't played in the fourth preseason game since his rookie season, will he be ready for San Francisco after just two passes in a game setting?
"Absolutely," Newton said. "I ain't got no choice."