GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cam Newton began his NFL career on the same field where he ended his collegiate one and was spectacular. His 422 yards passing are a record for any rookie in his NFL opener. Yet he didn’t leave a winner.
A rookie on the other team made the game-winning play.
Patrick Peterson brushed off a long afternoon at cornerback with an 89-yard punt return for the
go-ahead touchdown and the Arizona Cardinals escaped with a 28-21 victory over Newton’s Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Newton , the No. 1 pick in the draft who had struggled at times in the preseason, completed 24 of 37 passes with two TDs and one interception.
“He was everything everybody didn’t expect him to be,” said Steve Smith, who caught eight of those passes for 178 yards including touchdown catches of 77 and 26 yards.
“He was on point, he made some great runs, he made some great reads, made some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that honestly as a receiver it made it easy to catch them.”
The statistics seemed to mean little to the big, young quarterback, who was unbeaten in his BCS championship season at Auburn.
“The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College,” Newton said. “What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me.”
The Panthers had first down at the Arizona 11 late in the game, and even got an extra down on an offside call, but failed to score.
Kevin Kolb was 18 of 27 for 309 yards, including TD passes of 48 and 70 yards, in his first game for Arizona.
Newton’s debut didn’t surprise Peterson, the fifth overall pick out of LSU.
“I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do throughout the season because there were so many critics coming into the draft,” Peterson said.
Peterson hauled in the punt and broke a tackle and darted downfield on the long run, but almost paid dearly for a showboat move at the finish.
Peterson began to strut, not realizing Carolina’s Mike Goodson was gaining on him.
Peterson glanced around, realized the error of his ways, and sprinted away, diving over the goal line to put Arizona ahead 28-21 with 7:15 to play. It was the second-longest punt return in franchise history.