On a night when he played only one series, Cam Newton still was the most captivating man on the field.
Even when he wasn’t supposed to be.
The Carolina Panthers’ sixth-year quarterback and reigning league MVP led the offense to a field goal, but cost the defense a touchdown in Thursday’s 22-19 loss in the preseason opener at Baltimore.
Newton was standing on the sideline following his lone series when the ball ricocheted off a Ravens receiver and into the hands of linebacker A.J. Klein, who took off running with a clear lane to the end zone.
Newton became excited and animated, as Newton is wont to do, and ran on to the field to celebrate. This would have been OK last season, but not this year.
After Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter came on the field during the personal foul-marred playoff game against Cincinnati in January, the NFL has made keeping players and coaches on the sideline an officiating point of emphasis.
That’s why Newton was flagged for an illegal substitution, negating Klein’s 95-yard interception return. The Panthers ended up scoring on their ensuing drive when backup quarterback Derek Anderson hit Devin Funchess for a 10-yard touchdown.
Klein said Newton approached him later and apologized.
Still, Newton might want to give Klein a pair of Beats – or one of Newton’s new hats – as a goodwill gesture.
Newton said he would have liked to have received a warning before the flag, but didn’t want to discuss the penalty at length.
Newton kept a safe distance the rest of the game, wearing a long, black headband, eating what appeared to be gummy worms from a cup and watching Anderson and third-teamer Joe Webb run the offense.
“You live and you learn. It’s one of the main focal points that they have,” he said. “But as far as dwelling on it, it happened. We all learned something as a team and we’re just moving forward.”
Newton was in midseason form while in the game, completing his first five passes and quickly moving the Panthers into scoring position. Once there, it looked like Mike Shula didn’t want to show too much of his red-zone offense.
After a couple of short runs by Cameron Artis-Payne, Newton tried to hit Ted Ginn in the back of the end zone but couldn’t connect. While Graham Gano came on for a 26-yard field goal, Newton jogged off having completed 5-of-6 passes for 36 yards.
Newton will play a few more series next weekend at Tennessee and will likely play into the second half during the third exhibition against New England.
Newton went to Boston two years ago for the third exhibition and came home with cracked ribs that kept him out Week 1. That’s what Ron Rivera was trying to avoid by pulling Newton after 13 plays on a hot night in Baltimore, where the heat index was 102 degrees at kickoff.
On Anderson’s first snap after replacing Newton, Ravens outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith raced around backup left tackle Daryl Williams and knocked the ball from Anderson for a strip-sack. The Ravens recovered and a few plays later, Klein intercepted Ryan Mallett for a would-be touchdown that was nullified by the penalty on Newton.
It was the first of two such flags on the Panthers for straying too far from the sideline. Before Gano kicked off during the fourth quarter, a Carolina assistant coach was whistled for leaving the sideline area after being warned not to.
The resulting 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct seemed excessive. But like they do every preseason, officials call the exhibitions with a heavy hand to drive home the message and various points of emphasis.
Better that Newton and the coaches found out during a meaningless game in August than a month from now in Denver.
“I think we got a little enthusiastic and carried away with ourselves and it cost us twice,” Rivera said. “And we can’t have it, especially when you get to the regular season and it really counts.”
Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said he was running down the field during Klein’s return and didn’t realize who had drawn the penalty. When he found out he was both surprised and impressed.
“I was like, ‘This is really special. You guys really threw the flag on him?’ I want to see it on film. I want to see how far he was on this field,” Coleman said.
“But you know what the great thing is? He’s actually engaged in the game,” Coleman added. “He was excited for the defense. He got the flag, but he’s actually in the game. That shows a lot about himself.”