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Rookie QB Cam Newton should breathe life into Carolina Panthers' dormant passing attack

Sep. 16, 2011
 
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 28-21.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 28-21. / File/AP

Not cleared for takeoff

The 10 teams that averaged fewer than 200 yards passing per game in 2010 and the number of 200-yard games they produced.

Yards Team 200

2,289 Panthers 1

2,921 Cardinals 5

2,968 Chiefs 5

2,989 Browns 7

3,015 Bears 7

3,065 Jaguars 7

3,097 Vikings 6

3,107 Titans 7

3,158 Bills 7

3,180 Raiders 9

More

Cam Newton is the answer.

As the NFL kicked off yet another season with its Thursday-to-Monday package of pigskin, Newton dazzled as a record-setting rookie. The 2010 Heisman winner and first pick in April’s draft stood out more for his play than for his imposing height (6-foot-5) or talented feet.

Newton had a game to remember. The Panthers’ quarterback completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 28-21 loss to the Cardinals.

It’s a performance that’s sure to lead to a trivia question or two with Newton as the correct response.

The NFL documented how impressive he was, noting his yardage was the most ever by a player in his debut. His output tied the record for passing yards by a rookie (Matthew Stafford of the Lions in 2009) in any game, debut or not.

Only a seasoned veteran kept Newton from topping the chart in Week 1. Tom Brady outdid him, but the Patriots’ quarterback went to extremes to do so with a 517-yard outpouring that was the fifth-highest total by an individual in league history.

For the Panthers, questions have surrounded their passing game for more than a year and those concerns are not trivial. One game, as promising as it was, is not enough to know if Newton is the long-term answer.

Passing, or what masqueraded as such, bottomed out for Carolina last season. The 2,289 net yards it managed were the fewest in franchise history.

So ineffective were the Panthers that their passing offense ranked last and hundreds — not merely dozens or scores — of yards separated them from next on the list. Whereas other teams routinely amassed 200 yards a game — at least five times each for the other 31 clubs — the Panthers did so just once.

On that occasion, Carolina earned one of its two wins. Matt Moore completed 28 of 41 passes for 308 yards and was sacked once for a loss of 5 yards as the Panthers edged the 49ers 23-20.

But that was an aberration. Carolina fell short of 100 yards passing a league-leading four times.

Four quarterbacks (Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Brian St. Pierre and Tony Pike) contributed to the mess that was 2010. Three (Moore, St. Pierre and Pike) are no longer on the roster.

Moore started five games before a torn labrum ended his season in Week 9. Clausen, the team’s second-round draft choice, made 10 starts and missed one game because of a concussion.

St. Pierre, a career third quarterback who had thrown all of five passes in seven previous seasons, started once in place of Clausen (concussion). Pike saw action in one game.

The four passers combined for league lows in TD passes (9) and passer rating (57.0). Furthermore, the Panthers’ average gain per pass play (4.29 yards) was nearly half a yard poorer than 31st-place Arizona (4.78).

With one stellar showing, Newton has put last season squarely in the rearview mirror. His rating of 110.4 was nearly double that of his predecessors, and with two throws — a 77-yarder to Steve Smith and a 43-yard gain to Greg Olsen — he nearly matched Carolina’s 2010 total of three completions of 40-plus yards.

Newton cooled a bit as the opener with Arizona progressed. His passer ratings by quarter were 149.3 (first), 147.0 (second), 85.9 (third) and 76.8 (fourth).

But Newton didn’t quit. He went down swinging.

The Panthers punted on their first three fourth-quarter possessions. Undeterred, Newton drove Carolina to the Cardinals’ 6-yard line where his 4-yard, fourth-down pass to running back Mike Goodson with just more than a minute left fell a yard short of a first down.

Yes, Newton should breathe life into the Panthers’ dormant passing attack. With another monster effort, he could become just the second first-year player to throw for more than 300 yards in a game against the Packers, joining Bob Celeri of the New York Yanks, who collected 319 yards in a 29-27 loss to Green Bay 60 years ago in Yankee Stadium.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 6-4.

At Bank of America Stadium: Green Bay leads 4-2.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (28-20 overall; 0-1 vs. Carolina).

Panthers: Cam Newton (0-1 overall; 0-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Panther, now a Packer

Cornerback Jarrett Bush entered the NFL with Carolina as a nondrafted free agent in 2006.

Once a Packer, now a Panther

Long snapper J.J. Jansen entered the NFL with the Packers as a nondrafted free agent in 2008 and spent that season on injured reserve with Green Bay.

— Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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