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Monday September 12th, 2011

Cam Newton has excelled in his first taste of NFL regular season action. (AP)

It took Cam Newton less than eight minutes to prove to the NFL that he's more than just a running quarterback. On his third career pass, Newton found Steve Smith on a deep ball down the left sideline for a 77-yard touchdown, Newton's first-ever NFL TD toss (Watch the video here).

The two connected for another score just before halftime, with Newton hitting Smith on a 23-yard strike. Newton also scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter. All told, he finished with 422 passing yards -- an NFL Week 1 rookie record -- and three touchdowns. But his final pass of the game, a 4-yard completion to Mike Goodson, came up just shy of a first down deep in Arizona territory, and the Panthers fell to the Cardinals, 28-21.

Still, it was an incredible debut for Newton, who entered the NFL as the subject of heavy criticism about everything from his throwing motion to his mental make-up.

The Panthers didn't buy into any of that talk when they took Newton No. 1 overall in April's draft, and they sure didn't hesitate to trust him Sunday.

That second Newton-to-Smith TD came at the end of a five-play, 74-yard drive that started with just 1:03 on the clock. The Panthers' coaching staff opted to air it out, instead of settling for a 7-7 halftime tie. Newton rewarded that trust by completing three passes for 47 yards on the drive and running once for 12 yards. Fellow rookie starting QB Andy Dalton helped lead Cincinnati to a 27-17 win at Cleveland earlier in the day. Dalton finished that game 10-of-15 for 81 yards and a touchdown, but he also played just one half due to a wrist injury.

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