Panthers pick Cam Newton as starter for opener

September 2, 2011 3:20:02 AM PDT
The Carolina Panthers never asked Cam Newton to save them -- just lead them.

Now it's time for him to show he can do it in a game that matters.

The Panthers declared Newton their opening day starter following their 33-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night in the preseason finale.

That came after he threw his first touchdown pass as a pro.

"We didn't draft Cam to be the savior," coach Ron Rivera said.

"We drafted him to help lead this football team."

The Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick out of Auburn played only the first series, and was 3 of 5 for 25 yards with the 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey.

That came against a Steelers defense that rested Troy Polamalu and several other key players -- and it certainly won't be the case Sept. 11 when Newton faces Arizona in his regular season debut.

"Even with this position given, it doesn't stop here," Newton said. "I can't just sit back and say, `I've arrived,' because we've got a long way to go. ... The record begins now."

Charlie Batch started for Pittsburgh and was 6 of 8 for 59 yards and led a touchdown drive while playing roughly one quarter. He and Dennis Dixon are competing to back up Ben Roethlisberger, who also sat this one out.

"We asked them to come in and run some different things, with some different personnel, and I think they both showed great poise in that," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who called it "a good ending to a nice preseason for us."

Not many starters played for either team during what essentially was one last audition for players battling for roster spots and position on the depth chart, with cuts coming Saturday.

Polamalu, James Harrison and many of the other Pittsburgh starters didn't see the field for a unit that last season ranked second in the league in total defense, was its toughest against the run and helped the Steelers make their eighth Super Bowl appearance.

And without them standing in the way, Newton appeared quite comfortable.

He took just nine snaps, but that was enough to show off the combination of speed and arm strength that has the Panthers hoping he can revive the league's worst offense in 2010.

He led the Panthers 71 yards to a touchdown, and his only carry of that drive was a 19-yard run in which he took off from the pocket and made a nifty cut left to the Pittsburgh 22.

That set up the touchdown pass four plays later, when he dropped back and hit Shockey with a quick strike inside the 10.

The veteran tight end slipped out of Ryan Mundy's grasp on his way to the end zone to make it 7-all.

"Tonight went just how we would like it to go, with our offense playing one series," tackle Jordan Gross said. "Cam looked like he was playing his best football."

Newton's most impressive play, though, might have been his first incompletion.

As Larry Foote was bringing him down during a rollout, Newton managed to fling the ball roughly 30 yards near the sideline to Shockey before Mundy broke up the pass.

"I had him in the grasp, but he's really strong," Foote said.

"I struggled getting him down."

Notes: The Panthers finished the preseason 1-3 and lost three straight. The Steelers were 3-1 and won three straight. ... FB Jerome Felton, claimed by Carolina off waivers from Detroit earlier in the day, not only was in uniform but had a 3-yard carry on the opening drive. ... Steelers CBs Cortez Allen and Bryant McFadden were in uniform for the first time this preseason. ... Panthers backup LT Garry Williams injured his lower left leg early in the second quarter and did not return. ... Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham kicked a 52-yard field goal, and Swayze Waters kicked a 53-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter.

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