Cam Newton, the No. 1 draft pick by the Carolina Panthers, became the first player to pass for more than 400 yards in his National Football League debut, with 422 yards in a 28-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Newton broke Otto Graham’s record of 346 yards passing in his NFL debut in 1950, the Elias Sports Bureau said.
Playing on the same field in Glendale, Arizona, where he led Auburn University to a national championship last season, Newton yesterday also broke Peyton Manning’s record of 302 yards passing by a rookie in a season opener. He tied the single-game rookie mark set by fellow No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford in his eighth start for the Detroit Lions in 2009.
“He’s got a lot to learn, but I can’t be more pleased with his rookie performance in our opener as our starter,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said at a news conference.
Newton’s potential for success as an NFL quarterback has been questioned by some analysts even though he led Auburn to a 14-0 record last year while passing for 2,854 yards, rushing for 1,473 yards and accounting for 50 touchdowns. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said Newton presented both the “biggest upside” and “biggest risk” in the 2010 draft.
“He was everything everybody didn’t expect him to be,” said Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who caught eight passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. “He was on point, made some great runs, some great reads, some fantastic throws.”
Newton, 22, completed 24 of 37 passes yesterday, with two touchdowns and an interception for a Panthers team that had an NFL-worst 2-14 record last season.
His final pass -- on fourth down from the Arizona 6-yard line with 1:14 remaining -- fell one yard short of a first down and two yards shy of the end zone.
“That game didn’t come down to the last play, we had a lot of opportunities,” Newton said at a news conference. “A lot of bad throws by my part down at the end that I feel I could have done a better job at.”
Last season’s Heisman Trophy winner as college football’s best player, Newton threw first-half touchdown passes of 77 and 26 yards to Smith. He also ran for a score in his debut, a 1-yard dive in the third quarter that gave the Panthers a 21-14 lead. The Cardinals rallied in the fourth quarter, taking the lead on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Kolb to Early Doucet and an 89-yard punt return by Patrick Peterson.
“He didn’t seem like a rookie,” former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci, now an NFL analyst, said on the NFL Network. “He was very comfortable in a loud stadium. I was very impressed by Cam Newton. This kid is going to win a lot of football games.”
The Panthers return home next week, when they host the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
“I’m just going to go back and watch the film and see what I can get better,” Newton said.