CHARLOTTE – It had been nearly nine months since Cam Newton last threw a pass in a regular-season game. In the 265 days between, the Panthers quarterback underwent a shoulder procedure and sat out spring workouts before throwing just six passes in the preseason. So it stands to reason he wasn't all that sharp Sunday.
"(I was) a little rusty. Just have to get on the same page with everybody," Newton admitted after the Panthers' season-opening loss to the Rams.
"I wish I could have a couple throws back."
One of those came midway through the fourth quarter with the Panthers trailing, 30-20. After picking up a first down to start the drive, Newton dropped back on first-and-10 from Carolina's 36-yard line and looked for Greg Olsen. The tight end had found a hole in the zone, but by the time Newton saw him, linebacker Cory Littleton read where Newton was going.
"I just rushed it," admitted Newton, who finished 25-of-38 for 239 yards with no touchdowns and that interception by Littleton. "Me and Greg got a great rapport. He'd be a good charades partner for me cause I know exactly what he's thinking, and in that specific time, I was just late to it."
A drive earlier, Newton missed on a golden opportunity. At that point, the Panthers were down 23-20 and had taken over at their 29-yard line after an interception by cornerback James Bradberry. Facing a third-and-6 to keep the drive going, Newton saw wideout Curtis Samuel get open on a wheel route, but the throw went high.
"I have to give him a better ball, more accurate and just settle in," Newton said.
Of his 38 attempts, that misfire to Samuel was the only throw from Newton that traveled 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage. A stat like that was reminiscent of last season when Newton spent the bulk of the year making more accurate but shorter tosses.
"I'm not going to get into no philosophical discussion about throwing the ball downfield because that's not what this game's about," Newton said when asked why his deep ball remained limited.
"I take what the defense gives me. I go through the specific reads in a timely manner, and that's how I always play. You don't say to Coach, 'Hey, Coach, let's just throw the ball deep and see where that gets us.' That's not our mentality."
Added head coach Ron Rivera:
"He still can throw deep. It's just what he decides. He sees things and he had to decide whether he wants to. But he had an opportunity to throw it long and deep to Curtis and he overthrew him. I'm not concerned with any of that stuff."
Clearly, many were watching Newton's shoulder to see how it performed after his offseason procedure. And it didn't appear to bother him.
"My body feels fine, and whatever play (was) called, I felt confident. I didn't even think about my shoulder at no particular point. So I think that's a good sign," Newton said. "But I still got to stay on top of it, as well as my foot."
Which is Newton's other body part that caused a bit of worry coming in. He had a little over two weeks to recover from the left foot sprain he suffered in New England, and against the Rams, the Panthers didn't call a designed run for him until early in the fourth quarter. Newton finished with three carries for minus-2 yards, the first time in his career he's rushed for negative yardage. Still …
"He is not limited in any way at all," Rivera assured.
So if Newton is healthy and not limited, then perhaps Sunday was just a necessary evil that led to a disappointing result. He was going to need time to knock off the rust, time that can only come when the bullets are flying in the regular season.
"I wanted more than anything to be 1-0 after today, but at the end of the day, certain things do happen. Frustration does set in. Not being on the same page, not being connected to the same WiFi, whatever synonym floats your boat," Newton said. "We didn't have the start that we wanted to have. We've got to do a better job protecting the football.
"We had our opportunities to score more than three points that we lost by. That's what it really comes down to. Through my lens right now, yeah I'm extremely frustrated, but at the end of the day, can't do nothing about it but move forward to Tampa. And that's what I plan on doing."