Cam Newton underwent shoulder surgery on March 30 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. And while he wasn’t able to take part in the Carolina Panthers‘ offseason program and was very limited during preseason games, he was given clearance to start the team’s regular-season opener.
As Newton visibly struggled over the first three weeks of the season, seeming out of sync with his receivers, it was easy to question whether Newton rushed back and should have been more like the Indianapolis Colts‘ Andrew Luck and taken his time, or if the Panthers should have just made him practice more before putting him into a game.
But it didn’t look like Newton and the offense were having any issues on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
While ageless Tom Brady brought his team back yet again and tried to play spoiler, tying the game in the fourth quarter, Newton put Carolina in a position to win (he got some help thanks to two penalties from New England defensive backs), and Graham Gano nailed a last-second 48-yard field goal to give Carolina a 33-30 win.
In the process, Newton became the winningest quarterback in Carolina history, with 54; Jake Delhomme had 53 with the franchise.
Newton completed three-quarters of his passes on the day (22-for-29), for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, with 44 rushing yards. Each of the four quarterbacks the Patriots defense has faced this season have thrown for at least 300 yards.
Carolina scored on six of its nine possessions.
The Panthers were up by two touchdowns, 30-16, after a 7-yard touchdown run by Newton early in the fourth quarter, and Brady marched the Patriots downfield for two touchdowns to tie the game, 30-30, with three minutes to play.
It looked like the New England defense, which has not played particularly well over the first four games of the season, made the necessary stop to put the ball back into Brady’s hands – rookie Deatrich Wise Jr. sacked Newton on third-and-long – but another offseason pickup, big-money free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore, was flagged for illegal use of hands, and gave Carolina a fresh set of downs.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly told Fox Sports after the game that Newton playing well is a boost for the entire team.
“Confidence; that’s what Cam gives to our offense, what Cam gives our team,” Kuechly said. “Hopefully this is a big building step for us.”
Carolina, which was a disappointing 6-10 last year, a season after playing in the Super Bowl, is off to a 3-1 start.
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