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Carolina Panthers

Not in the Cards


GLENDALE, Ariz. – Quarterback Cam Newton shattered multiple rookie yardage records in his NFL debut Sunday.

In the end, though, Newton and the Carolina Panthers needed one more yard – if that.

"It's a couple of inches here and there," running back Mike Goodson said after he came up just short of a first down near the goal line in the waning seconds of the Panthers' 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. "I thought I had it, but that's the way it falls.

"Those shoulda, couldas, they'll get you."

On fourth-and-5 from Arizona's 6-yard line with a little more than a minute to go, Newton hit Goodson - his first option on the play – over the middle, but Cardinals linebacker Paris Lenon closed on Goodson and brought him down just short of the first down.

"We were half-a-yard short," Panthers first-year coach Ron Rivera said. "It was a well-designed, well-called play. If Goodson could have made a little move there, he would have had a chance to score or at least a first down. It was a terrific tackle."

Newton said the Panthers shouldn't have been in a position where they needed an 83-yard drive in the final two minutes to pull it out, and they did indeed yield two late touchdowns on special teams and defensive breakdowns to give up the lead.

Then again, they wouldn't have been in nearly as good a position if not for the day enjoyed by Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith. Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, completed 24-of-37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Smith caught both of Newton's touchdown tosses, finishing with eight catches for 178 yards.

Newton's passing yardage total was the most ever for a quarterback in his NFL debut, easily surpassing Otto Graham's 346-yard game for the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 16, 1950. It also shattered the rookie record for Kickoff Weekend (302 by Peyton Manning in 1998) and tied for the most yards for a rookie at any point during the season (Matthew Stafford in 2009).

The yardage total set an NFL record for rookie quarterbacks on Kickoff Weekend, eclipsing the 302 yards recorded by Peyton Manning in his Indianapolis Colts debut on Sept. 6, 1998.

Still, it wasn't quite enough.


"The last time I lost a game was against Navarro Junior College. It's not a comfortable feeling for me," said Newton, who had last lost a game on Oct. 31, 2009, before leading Blinn Junior College to a national title and then leading Auburn to a national title last year. "But we can't just linger on the bad things because there are a lot of things we did excellent."

The Panthers showed the most resilience when they lost the lead and their defensive leader, linebacker Jon Beason, on the same play early in the second half. A strong pass rush flushed Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb from the pocket, but Kolb kept the play alive long enough for tight end Jeff King - formerly with the Panthers - to break free down the right sideline.

King caught Kolb's floater near the 30 with no one near him and rumbled for a 48-yard score that tied the game at 14. Behind him, Beason tried fruitlessly to catch him and stumbled in the process, sustaining an injury that ended his day and maybe more. The long-term prognosis for Beason, who was questionable for the game with a heel injury that sidelined him nearly the entire offseason, is currently unknown.

"That was tough blow, especially seeing him work so hard to get back out there," fellow linebacker James Anderson said. "He's definitely a leader on this football team. You miss his leadership, and you miss a guy who gives everything he has on every play."

The Panthers, however, didn't flinch. Newton, who had been intercepted for the first time on the play prior to King's touchdown, led the Panthers right back on an eight-play, 80-yard drive to retake the lead at 21-14.

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell (four catches, 70 yards) made a 13-yard catch on third-and-12 to get it started. Tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen – who combined to catch seven passes for 129 yards - kicked it into overdrive with receptions of 22 and 23 yards to get it down to the 2. Then Newton finished it off, lining up in the shotgun and leaping over his line for a 1-yard score with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

The Cardinals, however, pulled it out in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-7, Kolb spotted Early Doucet open over the middle just 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and Doucet had to dodge just one would-be tackler in turning it into a 70-yard score that tied the game at 21 with 10:48 left.

The Cardinals took the lead for good soon after, when rookie Patrick Peterson fielded a punt and steamed 89 yards for a touchdown and 28-21 lead with 7:15 to go.


"Those were two momentum swings that we allowed. We have to be better," Rivera said. "We made too many mental mistakes, too many errors, and didn't give ourselves a chance to win the football game. We're too young of a football team to survive self-inflicted wounds."

Newton and Co. gashed the Cardinals pretty good in the first half. After the Cardinals scored on their opening drive, Newton spotted Smith behind safety Kerry Rhodes down the left sideline, hitting him in stride just past midfield. Smith strolled the rest of the way, a 77-yard score that tied the score at 7.

Newton and Smith weren't done, but first the defense had to hold off the Cardinals. Arizona twice drove to a goal-to-go situation in the final eight minutes of the half, but the Panthers defense didn't give in.

On the first drive, running back Beanie Wells dropped a pitch on second-and-goal from the 4, and Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis – who led Carolina with seven tackles - outfought Kolb for the loose ball. On the second drive, a bad block and a couple of nice plays by the defense pushed the Cardinals back from the 6 to the 18, and Jay Feely sailed a 36-yard field goal wide left.

That gave the Panthers the ball back with 1:03 remaining before halftime. With six seconds left, Newton capped a brisk 74-yard drive by lobbing one down the left sideline for Smith, who got a half-step on his defender and hauled it in for a 26-yard score and a 14-7 lead.

"I'm honored and pleased to be his teammate," Smith said of Newton. "We performed well, but not well enough to win. That's a stinger, but we have a lot to build on.

"You don't want to be hangdog, but you also don't want to walk around and strut your stuff. We've got a lot of work to do."

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