Playing in his first game on a surgically repaired ankle, quarterback Cam Newton scrambled three times. The results were an incompletion and two sacks. It’s not a good look in the box score, but those plays were ultimately successful. Newton’s ankle passed its first real test.
“I haven’t pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do,” Newton said afterward. “It was kind of like a shock at first. It’s one thing where you’ve got to tell your mind that you’re not hurt. I’ve been treating it as much as possible and trying to get as much as I can to make it feel better so when it’s out there you know it’s supposed to hurt, and sometimes it does hurt, but it’s just like a temporary pain.”
Considering his ankle and new receiving corps, Newton was understandably rusty in his preseason debut. Actually, rusty is a nice way of describing a Panthers’ first-quarter performance that saw them net one yard in three series.
Of course, Newton can be streaky, and good Cam came out for the second quarter. After completing just one of his first five passes, he went three-for-four during consecutive scoring drives.
The final stats on Newton’s 2014 debut: 4/9, 65 yards, two sacks, a surgically repaired ankle that held up, and two touchdown drives.
“It was kind of embarrassing for me to 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, fun to sit back and watch.”
Before Sunday, Stewart hadn’t scored since a loss to the Bucs on Nov. 18, 2012. To find the last time he had more than one touchdown in a game, you have to go all the way back to a win versus the Falcons on Nov. 15, 2009.
“It felt good. It’s been a while since I’ve touched the end zone,” Stewart said. “It’s good to get my feet wet and get back in the groove of things.”
And sure, it’s just the preseason, but Stewart’s successful return should serve as a reminder that he’s still capable of being the team’s best back.
“He fights for every yard. I think with that you get some of the nicks and knacks that he gets,” center Ryan Kalil said. “I know it kills him to not be able to stay out there all the time, but its part of the game. When he does get back out there, you realize why he is so special and why you keep giving him chances to come back.”
The receiver’s third-quarter touchdown was his first since he was a senior at Wofford. That it came in his hometown’s stadium just added to the special moment.
“Growing up here, going to these games, sitting in the stands, to finally be able to score a touchdown was a dream come true,” Bersin said.
After an impressive start in Spartanburg, the 24-year-old was slowed down recently by a large blister on his foot. But with a couple athletic catches and a tackle on kickoff coverage against the Chiefs, Bersin added another chapter to his increasingly interesting career.
When asked if he looked up at anyone in the stands after his touchdown, a beaming Bersin answered:
“Yeah, I blew my mom a kiss. Or, I tried to while everyone was mauling me.”
Late in the first half, after catching a pass that had sailed out of bounds, Benjamin exchanged words with Owens. Benjamin then tossed the ball at Owens before adding a head-butt and a shove to the facemask. The Panthers’ first-round pick was flagged for unnecessary roughness, knocking the offense out of field-goal range.
“No, he didn’t push me,” Benjamin said when asked what Owens did to get under his skin. “He was just talking, just being a defensive player, I would say.”
FOX cameras captured Ron Rivera and Benjamin having a one-way chat as they went to the locker room for halftime. But Rivera claimed he wasn’t necessarily upset at his star rookie.
“I told Kelvin that this is going to happen. A guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game, and that’s what we talked about,” Rivera explained.
“This is also one of those things where you have to stand up for yourself. There’s a point where you have to draw a line, and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this then I’m going to draw a line in the sand. I told him that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play.”
In the second quarter, after breaking up a pass intended for Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, Norman started talking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but he and Bowe kept yapping at each other. Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis eventually stepped in to push Norman away from a potential penalty.
When a reporter tried to ask Ron Rivera about the moment, the usually mild-mannered coach interrupted the question to explain that he actually pulled Norman from the game.
“That’s why we lost in the playoffs. It started with me. I made the mistake of getting caught up in that emotion,” Rivera admitted. “We have to learn how to control that. If we’re going to be a playoff team, we’ve got to do those things the right way and we’ve got to be able to handle it.”
If Norman knew Rivera was upset, he didn’t show it afterward. The third-year player batted away numerous questions about the incident, claiming his emotions were a product of the Panthers aggressive defense.
“What do you want us to be out there, little puppets? I mean, you don’t want us to say nothing? Come on, it’s within the game,” Norman said. “At the end of the day, nobody got flagged for it, so what’s the big deal?”
- Defensive end Charles Johnson, who missed the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, tweaked it again in the second quarter.
- Receiver Tavarres King limped off during the second half.
- Defensive tackle Casey Walker was carted off after taking a shot to the ribs.
- Tight end Greg Olsen, who’s nursing a sore calf, did not play. He’s not in danger of missing much more time.
- Other inactives: Running back Darrin Reaves (knee), receiver Kealoha Pilares (ankle), receiver De’Andre Presley (leg), tight end Mike McNeill (knee), defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh, linebacker Chase Blackburn (back), safety Tre Boston (groin), and safety Roman Harper (toe).