CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton wasn't sure how his body was going to react in his regular season debut.
"Today was the first time in a long time playing four quarters of football," Newton said. "I felt as if I was kind of antsy early on, and that comes from lack of playing time."
Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton "looked rusty at times" and that was expected early in his first start. Not only is Newton adjusting to regular season game speed, he's also battling the effects of offseason ankle surgery and a rib injury suffered in the preseason.
"He's as tough as it gets for that position," tight end Greg Olsen said. "I don't know if he gets enough credit for that."
But 100 percent or not, the Panthers needed Newton's playmaking ability to defeat the Lions and their stout defensive front on Sunday.
"Holy moly that was a tall order, and that is a little bit of an understatement," center Ryan Kalil said. "One of the best defensive front I've ever played against."
With little room to run, the Panthers needed to throw and throw it often in the second half. They needed Newton to settle in, and he did.
"He knocked the rust off and went forward," Rivera said. "Once he settled down, he made some really good decisions.
"I thought he played with the energy and excitement that Cam Newton brings to this football team. The guys on the offensive side really started to respond."
With Carolina trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, Newton engineered a 72-yard scoring drive by completing 5-of-6 passes, the last of which was a laser to Jason Avant for what proved to be the game-winning 14-yard touchdown.
On Carolina's touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Newton tossed a pass where only Kelvin Benjamin could get it, and the rookie made a one-handed catch for a 24-yard gain. He completed a 21-yard pass to Avant on third-and-12 and later dove for the pylon on 4-yard scramble before running back Jonathan Stewart punched it in.
Newton, who was sacked five times, finished 22-of-34 for 281 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 100.2.
"I did alright," Newton said. "But moving forward I'll get my feet back under me and as the game went on I started feeling more and more comfortable and it showed.
"It was fun to go out there and battle."
Newton is hopeful his first battle of the 2014 season has shaken off all the rust.
"I have to put my team in a better situation to be successful early on," Newton said. "Because if our defense wasn't playing lights out early, who knows what this game would have been.
"We'll do a better job and start up faster next week."