As we await Cam Newton’s first game of the 2015 season, let’s flash back to the first win of his career.
That game, like Sunday’s, was against Jacksonville. What was unique about that September 2011 game – and you will remember this if you were there – was that it was practically played in a monsoon.
More than 4 inches of rain poured into Bank of America Stadium in a 35-minute span starting midway through the second quarter. Four inches! Many fans understandably left their seats during the deluge. But the game kept going on and Jacksonville scored on a 36-yard pass on the last play before halftime to take a 10-5 lead into the break.
This was only Newton’s third game in the NFL, and he was a long way from the five-year veteran who will lead the Panthers Sunday in Jacksonville. But he had thrown for more than 400 yards in the first two games (he has never thrown for 400 yards since). But both of those first two games, while spectacular, resulted in seven-point losses.
This one was different. Newton threw the ball high on one of the wettest days in Charlotte football history and gained a modest 158 yards passing. But he also held onto it well enough that he never turned it over and never fumbled a snap (Jacksonville counterpart Blaine Gabbert fumbled three).
Down 10-8, Newton led a game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, hitting Greg Olsen for a 16-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the winning points.
The Panthers got to 16 points in a 16-10 win over Jacksonville four years ago in an odd way – one safety, two field goals, one TD and a two-point conversion.
Said Newton of the rainstorm, which had continued into the third quarter: “It was nuts. I ain’t ever been a part of nothing like that in my life.”
But Newton also knew, even back then as a rookie, that the NFL is a performance-based league.
“No matter what the conditions were – dry, slick, wet – it doesn’t matter as a quarterback in this league,” Newton said. “There’s an old saying: ‘Don’t tell me about the pain, just bring me the baby.’”
The win also was the first as a head coach for Carolina’s Ron Rivera, who after the game said some things we have heard about Newton off-and-on for the next four years as well.
“He was high (on his early throws),” Rivera said. “This is an emotional football player. He just has to learn how to control himself and take a deep breath. ... Young quarterbacks are going to have good and bad days. Unfortunately, this was one of his bad days.”
Rivera meant that in terms of throwing the ball accurately. He was quite happy that rainy afternoon with a turnover-free Newton winning his first game. The coach and quarterback would love a similar result Sunday.