Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scrapped his post-game press conference Sunday because of a random drug test, so there were no first-hand accounts of how his surgically repaired shoulder held up in his first real game.
But for all the rust that was evident in Newton, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said one of the more pleasing things coming out of the 23-3 victory at San Francisco was the health of Newton’s throwing shoulder.
“It was fine,” Rivera said Monday. “He came through it very good.”
Newton played just one series and attempted two passes in the preseason after the medical staff shut him down when he had a setback in his recovery during the first week of training camp.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
So Rivera wasn’t surprised when Newton missed on 10 of his first 15 throws against the 49ers?
“I thought (Newton) was a little bit rusty,” Rivera said. “He saw a lot of good things. He just – his timing isn’t there where it needs to be, obviously.”
Newton’s most glaring mistake was a throw he airmailed over the head of tight end Ed Dickson, who was alone in the end zone. Rivera said running back Christian McCaffrey was the primary target on the play, and Newton rushed his throw when he spied Dickson wide open deep.
“He got excited,” Rivera said. “You see him, he shifts his feet to throw the ball and he threw it too quickly.”
But Newton found his rhythm beginning late in the first half. He completed nine of his last 10 passes, with the lone incompletion coming on a spike to stop the clock.
With the Panthers protecting a 20-point lead, Newton threw only one pass in the fourth quarter.
“Nobody’s better in the fourth quarter right now than Cam Newton in completion percentage,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said jokingly.
While conceding that Newton’s timing remains a work in progress, Shula said Newton made several plays that contributed to the victory. Shula pointed to a third-down scramble that extended a touchdown drive, an audibled scoring toss to Russell Shepard and a 25-yard strike to Kelvin Benjamin that set up a field goal before the half.
While the Panthers prepare this week for Buffalo and first-year coach Sean McDermott, Rivera said it’s imperative that Newton practices closer to game speed.
During the final week of preseason practice, the Panthers had their first-team defense go against the first-team offense, which Rivera thought was beneficial to Newton.
But the Panthers don’t want to use 1s-vs-1s during the regular season, so Rivera is counting on the scout-team defense to practice faster.
“When you do things fast, you do things quick, you try to do them close to game speed, it really does help (Newton),” Rivera said.