NFL: Panthers 16, Jaguars 10
By Aaron Beard
CHARLOTTE ó Cam Newton overthrew receivers. He spent much of Sunday fighting to keep his grip on the football amid a torrential downpour that slowed the game to a crawl.
There were few of the big passing plays he made look so easy in his first two games, even fewer scoring chances, and more than enough reasons to get frustrated.
Instead, the No. 1 overall draft pick by Carolina ignored it all and led the clutch drive that secured his first NFL victory, 16-10 over Jacksonville.
Newton found Greg Olsen over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 4:20 left to help the Panthers beat the Jaguars, giving coach Ron Rivera his first victory on the Carolina sideline.
Newton didnít come close to matching those 400-yard throwing days from each of his first two games, finishing 18 for 34 for 158 yards against the Jaguars and their own highly drafted rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. It didnít matter, though, considering he had just earned his first victory since leading Auburn past Oregon in last seasonís BCS championship game.
ěIt wasnít a pretty win,î Newton said, ěbut the last part counts, right?î
Newton didnít even crack the 100-yard passing mark until the final period. At least some blame went to the heavy rain that arrived in the second quarter, turning the field into a slick, puddle-filled mess, sending players hydroplaning and kicking up walls of water as they slid to the turf on tackles.
But after the rain let up in the third period, Newton directed a field-goal drive late in the period. Then he completed all three of his passes for 47 yards on the decisive drive. On his last throw, he went over the middle to Olsen, who broke free of a tackle by Daryl Smith and sprinted to the left side for the go-ahead touchdown.
Newton also found Olsen for the 2-point conversion that erased the 10-5 halftime deficit.
Olsen said Newtonís demeanor never changed in the huddle.
ěThatís what makes him a winner and what makes him how successful heís been,î Olsen said. ěThe circumstances we were in were tough. Thatís not an excuse. If you ask Jacksonville, they would say the same thing.î
Gabbert, the 10th pick of the draft, threw for 139 yards in his starting debut. That included a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas on the final play of the first half, leading to a steady series of boos from the drenched home fans who hadnít already fled to the safety of the concourse.
ěIt was a good start for him, considering it was a hurricane,î said Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 122 yards. ěHeís going to be a good quarterback, and weíve got to continue to grow with him.î
Gabbert even had a chance to snatch the victory from Newton in the final minute, driving the Jaguars way to the Carolina 36-yard line in the final seconds. But linebacker Thomas Williams batted away Gabbertís final pass for Jason Hill as the clock expired.
Gabbert completed 12 of 21 passes and had three fumbled snaps ó the Jaguars recovered each one ó to go with an interception.
ěWe got the right look most of the day,î Gabbert said. ěWe knew what they were going to do. We made the right calls, had the correct blocking. We just failed to execute.î
The Panthers seriously considered taking Gabbert with the top pick before deciding on the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn. The decision has paid off so far, with Newton energizing the Charlotte area while giving the franchise the type of exciting player it has never really had.
ěAt times, the defense wasnít giving me the looks that we were wanting,î Newton said. ěThatís one where you have to make up your decision in your mind as a quarterback: Are you going to force it to get a completion or are you just going to check it down to your backs? … Today was a prime example of you just managing the game and just getting it to your backs and keeping the chains going.î
Newton directed just one first-half scoring drive that ended with a field goal. But he avoided any turnovers after throwing three interceptions against Green Bay last week.
ěHe settled in and made some good decisions,î Rivera said.
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