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Strickly Panthers: Newton gains foothold

CHARLOTTE – After watching the first quarter of the Panthers' preseason opener last week in street clothes, Cam Newton unexpectedly found himself watching most of the first quarter again Sunday.

That was problematic given that Newton had returned to his role as Carolina's starting quarterback.

"It was kind of embarrassing for me to not lead my offense out there and not have a first down," Newton said. "But when we did get things going, it was fun to see."

Newton, playing in a game for the first time on his surgically repaired left ankle, led the offense to just one total yard on his three first-quarter possessions. But in the second quarter, both of Newton's drives resulted in touchdowns that helped the Panthers rally to a 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It was his first live action. He was a little antsy," head coach Ron Rivera said. "But what he finished up with is what we're hoping for and we're going to continue to work toward."

Newton, who played all but the final possession of the first half and finished 4-for-9 for 65 yards, nearly broke through a bit earlier. On the second play of his third drive, rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin beat his man deep, but Benjamin's five-yard cushion didn't matter when Newton's pass sailed five yards beyond him.

"He just came to me and said, 'Man, I'm a little revved up.' It was his first game back, so you've got to expect that," Benjamin said. "I knew before the game that he was pumped up."

The next time the Panthers had the ball, Newton began to settle in as his teammates began to make plays around him. Another Panther making his 2014 debut, running back Jonathan Stewart, reeled off a 17-yard run on his first snap. Newton connected with tight end Ed Dickson for an 11-yard gain on the next play, then a pass interference penalty set up Stewart to score from 2 yards out.

"We weren't firing on all cylinders, but when we did it was great to see," Newton said. "Kelvin made some plays. Jason Avant made some plays. The running backs ran extremely hard. There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle."

On Newton's fifth and final drive, the ultimate piece to the puzzle fell fully into place. Newton hit Benjamin for 24 yards and Avant for 25 yards to set up Stewart's second touchdown and bring Newton's night to an end.

And a successful night it was, even if the offense hadn't gotten into such a nice rhythm before Newton departed.

"It's about regaining confidence in my ankle," Newton said. "I know I had surgery. Everyone knows I had surgery. It's a constant buildup. I hadn't pressed the throttle all the way to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do.

"In practice, I'm always having a short whistle, and Coach is always holding them back – which is understandable. But there's no holding back come game time. They're trying to hurt me just like I have bad intentions for the other team by trying to score touchdowns."

In those regards, the ledger fell in Newton's favor.

"You've got to tell your mind that you're not hurt," Newton said. "I'm still just taking it day in and day out, trying to get treatment on it to get it back to 100 percent.

"I'm just eager to watch the film and get back at it."

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