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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Carolina's Cam Newton exceeds expectations in NFL debut

The Panthers quarterback has impressed his teammates by making a seamless transition to a pro-style offense. Newton threw for 422 yards Sunday, the most by a rookie quarterback making his first start.

September 12, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton scopes the field for a receiver on Sunday during a 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton scopes the field for a receiver… (Paul Connors / Associated…)

Rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to look comfortable in their debuts, especially on the road.

Rookie quarterbacks aren't supposed to make a seamless transition from a college spread offense to a pro-style NFL scheme.

Rookie quarterbacks — especially ones known for accuracy problems — aren't supposed to begin their pro careers by throwing for 400 yards.

These are NFL rules of thumb.

Then, there's Newton's Law.

Carolina's Cam Newton was the buzz of the league Monday after throwing for 422 yards — the most by a rookie quarterback making his first start — in a 28-21 loss at Arizona.

The Heisman Trophy winner, who completed just 40.4% of his passes in exhibition games, completed 24 of 37 (64.9%) with two touchdowns and an interception. This for a team that was last in total offense in 2010 and at the bottom of the pile in touchdown passes with nine.

"One of the best things that ever happened for us was [quarterback] Andrew Luck staying at Stanford," Carolina center Ryan Kalil said in a phone interview Monday. "Because if we did it over again and both those guys came out, I'd take Cam every time. I think he's a special athlete. He's rare."

The Panthers came away from Arizona with a loss — newly acquired Kevin Kolb threw a pair of touchdown passes for the Cardinals — but Newton "exceeded expectations," said Panthers Coach Ron Rivera, and gives Carolina fans reason for hope.

"He did everything everybody didn't expect him to do," said Steve Smith, who caught both of Newton's touchdown passes. "He was on point. He made some great runs, some great reads and some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that, honestly, as a receiver, it made it easy to catch them."

Kalil said Newton has impressed teammates with how quickly he has picked up a complicated offense, and he's not permitted to wear a play list on his arm because it's too much of a crutch.

"He comes into the huddle and he's calling out these long plays, he's making decisions, he's audibling things, he's doing stuff that's in the book that they want him to do," the center said. "He obviously makes mistakes, as everybody does, but he's such a competitor and he wants to do so well. It's inspiring."

Smith seemed most encouraged that Newton, despite his record-setting day, came away from Arizona with an overall feeling of disappointment. Just coming close isn't good enough, even though the Panthers are widely projected to finish at the bottom of the NFC South.

Last season, Newton led Auburn to an undefeated season that culminated with a victory over Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series title game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the same place he played Sunday.

"The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College," Newton told reporters Sunday. "What do you want me to say, it feels great? It's not a comfortable feeling for me."

It won't get any easier Sunday when the Panthers play host to the Green Bay Packers, the defending Super Bowl champions who beat New Orleans in the NFL kickoff game Thursday and will be well rested to face the Panthers.

Newton could catch a break in that the Packers might be without cornerback Tramon Williams, who suffered a bruised right shoulder in the opener and is not guaranteed to start.

Regardless, Newton won't be sneaking up on anyone.

Injury update

Every week brings more injuries, some of them season-ending. But they were rampant in Week 1, resulting in some key players being done for the year.

Among those players finished for the season are San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding, a two-time Pro Bowler who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while attempting to tackle Percy Harvin on the Minnesota star's 103-yard kickoff return; Kansas City safety Eric Berry, whose ACL was torn when he was blocked in the first quarter against Buffalo; and Carolina linebacker Jon Beason, who suffered a torn Achilles' tendon while running in the open field.

It is not yet known when or whether Chargers defensive tackle Luis Castillo or St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola will return this season. Castillo has a broken leg; Amendola suffered a dislocated elbow.

The Rams, who also lost cornerback Ronald Bartell — possibly for the season — with two small fractures in his neck, got some good news on quarterback Sam Bradford. He's expected to play next Monday at the New York Giants despite a bruised index finger on his throwing hand. The Rams could be without running back Steven Jackson for that game, however, because of a strained quadriceps.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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