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Mike Shula "really encouraged" by Week 1 win


CHARLOTTE -- After the first Sunday of the NFL regular season, Cam Newton is the most accurate quarterback in the league in the fourth quarter.

He's 1-for-1 for three yards.

"Nobody is better in the fourth quarter right now than Cam Newton and completion percentage," offensive coordinator Mike Shula joked. "Although, there might be some guys tied."

Newton apparently saved his best for last after showing signs of rustiness early, completing all six passes (excluding a spike) in the second half after going 8-for-18 in the first half. It's understandable considering the quarterback is only a few months removed from shoulder surgery and only threw two in-game passes during the preseason. Yet, his performance was good enough to encourage coaches that the best is still yet to come from both the 2015 NFL MVP and the offense as a whole.

"I'm really encouraged about yesterday and moving forward," Shula said. "I thought he made a lot of good plays – the scramble on third down on the touchdown drive, the big play before the half with Kelvin (Benjamin), the third-down play for the touchdown. Those were big plays."

There's something to be said for the Panthers' offensive connection when it mattered most.  The offense hardly had any time during the preseason to gel together in a live game situation – seven snaps against Jacksonville to be exact.

"I think the lack of practice reps and the lack of live reps (has been a challenge)," Shula said. "I thought about even with (Cam) and (center) Ryan (Kalil) when he fumbled the snap. That's crazy, right? But when was the last time those guys had a regular season rep together? Almost a year ago."

It was Week 11 of the 2016 season to be exact - the last time Kalil was healthy enough to play. And Shula's point is a valid one: There just haven't been many live reps to build a rapport.

"The biggest negative throughout the offseason and training camp has been getting those guys on the field together," Shula said.

As the season progresses, the timing between each of Carolina's offensive components will begin to fall into the place. The "puzzle" as Shula referred to has many different pieces that Newton tried to involve throughout the game against the 49ers. The quarterback linked up with eight different targets and connected with six, and not a single receiver stood out as the sole difference maker.

Everyone made plays.

"Whatever it takes to win," Shula said.  "One week it might be this guy or it might be this style. Another week it's going to be that. We talked about doing whatever it takes to win a football game."

View the top photos from Panthers vs. 49ers by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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