- The first game featuring the Panthers' new offense under Norv Turner wasn't perfect, but it's clear that Newton is having fun playing football again.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hey baby. I’m gonna let you be you now, baby.
These were Norv Turner’s words to Cam Newton according to Newton in his postgame press conference on Sunday night. Newton cocked his head back, closed his eyes and did his best West Coast-Cool imitation of Turner.
“OK, coach,” Newton retorted.
Just let it go out there today, baby.
“He loves ‘baby,’” Newton said.
The first game of this Newton-Turner marriage should be deemed a success.
The Panthers topped the Cowboys at home 16–8 as Newton passed for just 161 yards but rushed for a team-high 58 yards and a touchdown. Newton’s legs were the biggest reason for Carolina’s early offensive success, and Turner doesn’t plan to stand in the way of that.
Though Turner hadn’t had an offense crack the top 10 in yards or points since the 2011 Chargers, there was reason for optimism when he came to Charlotte this offseason. Newton had essentially been playing in Turner’s offense his entire career, one that was brought over by Rob Chudzinski in Newton’s 2011 rookie season and kept mostly in place by Mike Shula.
At 29 and with shoulder, rib, back and ankle injuries in his previous seven years, Newton has been hearing that he should dial back his running if he wants to prolong his career. “Do you expect a lion not to roar?,” Newton asked rhetorically before last season. Despite head coach Ron Rivera and Shula promising to protect Newton and run him less in 2017, he rushed a career-high 139 times for 754 yards.
Newton rushed five times for 59 yards in the first quarter alone, setting the tone for both the game and the season. Newton was the beneficiary of the Cowboys deciding not to check him on zone reads despite the Panthers running it in abundance for the past eight seasons. He made an easy decision to keep on a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Panthers the first points of the game.
It wasn’t until Newton’s seventh rush of the game when the Cowboys successfully defended the quarterback run. Shortly after that, Turner called a triple-option play where Christian McCaffrey earned 15 yards.
“I felt extremely comfortable with what he was doing,” Newton said of Turner’s play-calling. “I understood the gameplan going into it. It’s still kind of give and take, knowing how he calls, the preparation process throughout the whole week. This was the first week that we really had to hone in.”
The Cowboys defense started to clamp down in the second half, forcing the Panthers to go 0-for-5 on third downs in the final two quarters. But even though Dallas held Carolina to 16 points, Dak Prescott’s offense never looked good. Ezekiel Elliott only got 15 rushes for 69 yards in 57 offensive plays. The Cowboys didn’t cross midfield until five minutes had elapsed in the second half. They didn’t make a third-down conversion until five minutes remaining in the third quarter. And they didn’t enter the red zone until 11 minutes remaining in the game.
For all the smiles for Carolina’s offense, there were a few cries, too. Tight end Greg Olsen re-injured his surgically repaired right foot in the first quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams, who had recovered in six weeks’ time from a dislocated kneecap, injured his right knee and had to be carted off.
The Panthers will have to navigate those injuries—they survived a scare with Luke Kuechly’s knee, too—but after one game this season, Newton is back to having fun playing football. And that’s the way these Panthers win.