It’s easy to get caught up in eye-popping numbers. It’s especially easy when those numbers are put up by the NFL’s marquee rookie. But Cam Newton’s debut tonight was about more than numbers.
Sure, there are some stats and records that probably left even Newton’s staunchest supporters surprised:
-- He’s the first NFL player to throw for 400 yards in his debut.
-- He broke records set by four-time league MVP Peyton Manning and by three-time NFL champ Otto Graham.
-- He threw for more yards than any Panthers quarterback since 2006.
-- He led the Panthers to more touchdowns than they scored in a single game last season.
More after the jump...
But before we launch into hyperbole, let’s remember: It’s just one game. And oh yeah, it’s a game Newton’s team lost.
"The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College," Newton told reporters after the game. "What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me."
While Newton may not have felt comfortable afterward, he looked plenty comfortable when it mattered.
From his first series, which ended with a punt, to his last series, which ended with the Panthers two yards short from overtime, and with plenty of electric moments in-between, Newton showed a poise you don’t find in many rookie quarterbacks - let alone ones that are starting their first game.
"It’s fun to play with that guy," Panthers center Ryan Kalil said in a postgame interview with 1110 WBT. "We’re proud with how he’s handled all the information, all the different things that have been thrown at him and he’s only going to get better."
The numbers may or may not get better. As I wrote here Thursday, it’s important not to make any knee-jerk reactions to what Newton does in the opener or during his first professional season.
But it’s hard not to watch a specific series of events late in the fourth quarter and not think there could be something special brewing.
The Panthers trailed 28-21 and they’d just gotten the ball back for one final drive. After a 10-yard completion to Greg Olsen, the Panthers were at their own 27 and the clock was ticking.
2:10: Newton hurries to the line
2:05: Newton starts clapping his hands furiously
2:03: more claps
The result: a 27-yard pass to Brandon LaFell that brought the Panthers near midfield. Since Newton hurried to get the play off, it was essentially a bonus play before the two-minute warning.
It’s a moment many seasoned quarterbacks botch. But in this moment, Newton, in his first NFL start, played it perfectly. And that’s the biggest takeaway from tonight: He showed a poise beyond his years.
Newton could very well have higher highs, but he’ll also have plenty of lows. And even though it’s just one game, it’s apparent the Panthers have found their quarterback.
"He can make a couple better decisions, believe it or not," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told 1110 WBT. "But the young man’s going to grow. And as he grows, we grow, and as we grow, he’ll grow."