NFL: Packers 30, Panthers 23
Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 18, 2011
By Aaron Beard
CHARLOTTE ó For the second straight week, Cam Newton threw for more than 400 yards, sidestepped pass rushers and moved the Carolina Panthers up and down the field.
Leave it to Aaron Rodgers and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to spoil Newtonís home debut.
Rodgers threw for 308 yards and two scores, while the Packers withstood a 432-yard passing day from the No. 1 overall draft pick to beat the Panthers 30-23 on Sunday.
A week after throwing for 422 yards ó the most in league history by a rookie in his professional debut ó Newton topped himself by throwing for a franchise single-game record. He passed for one touchdown and also ran for a 4-yard score with 37 seconds left to bring Carolina (0-2) within seven, but the Packers (2-0) recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
ěI knew he would be good, but if I told you I knew heíd be this good this early, Iíd be lying to you,î said Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, who had one of four sacks of Newton. ěHe doesnít get frustrated. We threw a lot of stuff at him today and he was able to sit back there and make some of the plays they needed.î
While Newton racked up the big yards, Rodgers was the one to direct his team to a victory. He found Greg Jennings for a 49-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, the go-ahead score in a run of 23 straight points to erase an early 13-0 deficit.
Then, after Clay Matthews stopped Newton a yard shy of the marker on a fourth-down run inside the 5, Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for an 84-yard touchdown that made it a two-possession game and helped the Packers hang on.
ěIt wasnít clean by any means,î Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. ěWe can sit here and pick apart all the things that didnít go right, but most importantly, we finished it as a football team.î
While Newton had another big yardage day, the Packersí defense came up big by forcing the rookie into three interceptions ó two by Charles Woodson. Matthewsí stop came as Newton and the Panthers were closing in on a tying touchdown.
Two plays later, Rodgers found Nelson on the left side, and the receiver sprinted down the sideline and all the way to the end zone to push the lead to 30-16 with 2:14 left.
Newton went on to crack the 400-yard mark on the ensuing possession, finding Steve Smith deep over the middle for a 62-yard pass before capping the drive with his scoring run. He completed 28 of 46 passes and showed plenty of mobility ó he made Matthews miss on tackles at least three times ó and finished as Carolinaís top rusher with 53 yards.
Rodgers said he told Newton afterward that he was impressed by the rookieís play.
ěI think someone said in the locker room that Iím kind of glad we played him early in the season,î Rodgers said, ěbecause when he figures it out fully, heís going to be even tougher to stop.î
Just as with last week, Newton wasnít in the mood to celebrate after a loss.
ěWeíve just got to get it right. Weíre going to get it right,î Newton said. ěBut Iím not the person to just sit up here and say, ëWell, we have next time.í Iím not that type of person. I want it right now and I want to get it right now.î
Newton couldnít have asked for a better start in his home debut in front of a crowd loudly cheering his every move and hoping heíll reverse the franchiseís sagging fortunes. He threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell on his first drive. Then, after a fumbled kickoff return by Randall Cobb, Newton directed the first of two field-goal drives to take the 13-0 lead.
But Rodgers and the Packers offense ó which spent most of the first quarter on the sideline ó finally got in rhythm while Newton started making mistakes.
His first came late in the second quarter by throwing to Smith in double coverage, with Woodson diving in front of Smith near the sideline for the interception.
His second interception came when he tried to throw against pressure from Matthews, with Woodson jumping in front of Smith for a second pick. On the third, Newton simply overthrew an open Legedu Naanee and the ball ended up in the arms of safety Morgan Burnett near midfield late in the third quarter.
ěThis is a rookie quarterback thatís learning and growing and getting better each opportunity he gets,î Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ěWhen we go back and really get to watch the tape, weíll see he missed a read here, he missed a throw here, but for the most part, he handled himself with the type of poise and composure you would not expect.î
Meanwhile, Rodgers played a mistake-free game and completed 19 of 30 throws. John Kuhn added a goal-line plunge for the Packersí first touchdown, while Mason Crosby kicked three field goals.
NOTES: Packers safety Nick Collins was carried off on a stretcher after he injured his neck in the fourth quarter. He gave a slight wave to the crowd. … Packers receiver Donald Driver had a 10-yard catch to become the Packersí all-time leader with 9,666 receiving yards.