A week after throwing for 422 yards – most in league history by a rookie in his professional debut – Newton topped himself by setting an NFL rookie record for passing yardage in a game. He passed for one touchdown and also ran for a 4-yard score with 37 seconds left to bring Carolina (0-2) within seven, but the Packers (2-0) recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
Newton briefly held the NFL record for most passing yards in the first two games of the season by any quarterback (854), before New England’s Tom Brady broke it a few hours later. Newton still set a league record for most yards passing in the first two games of a career.
“I knew he would be good, but if I told you I knew he’d be this good this early, I’d be lying to you,” said Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, who had one of four sacks of Newton. “He doesn’t get frustrated. We threw a lot of stuff at him today and he was able to sit back there and make some of the plays they needed.”
While Newton racked up the big yards, Rodgers was the one to direct his team to a victory. He found Greg Jennings for a 49-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, the go-ahead score in a run of 23 straight points to erase an early 13-0 deficit.
Then, after Clay Matthews stopped Newton a yard shy of the marker on a fourth-down run inside the 5, Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for an 84-yard touchdown that made it a two-possession game and helped the Packers hang on.
While Newton had another big yardage day, the Packers’ defense came up big by forcing the rookie into three interceptions – two by Charles Woodson. Matthews’ stop came as Newton and the Panthers were closing in on a tying touchdown.
Newton went on to crack the 400-yard mark on the ensuing possession, finding Steve Smith deep over the middle for a 62-yard pass before capping the drive with his scoring run. He completed 28 of 46 passes and showed plenty of mobility – he made Matthews miss on tackles at least three times – and finished as Carolina’s top rusher with 53 yards.
“We’ve just got to get it right. We’re going to get it right,” Newton said. “But I’m not the person to just sit up here and say, ‘Well, we have next time.’ I’m not that type of person. I want it right now and I want to get it right now.”
Newton couldn’t have asked for a better start in his home debut in front of a crowd loudly cheering his every move and hoping he’ll reverse the franchise’s sagging fortunes. He threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell on his first drive. Then, after a fumbled kickoff return by Randall Cobb, Newton directed the first of two field-goal drives to take the 13-0 lead.
His second interception came when he tried to throw against pressure from Matthews, with Woodson jumping in front of Smith for a second pick. On the third, Newton simply overthrew an open Legedu Naanee and the ball ended up in the arms of safety Morgan Burnett near midfield late in the third quarter.
“This is a rookie quarterback that’s learning and growing and getting better each opportunity he gets,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “When we go back and really get to watch the tape, we’ll see he missed a read here, he missed a throw here, but for the most part, he handled himself with the type of poise and composure you would not expect.”
Notes: Packers safety Nick Collins was carried off the field on a stretcher after he injured his neck while trying to tackle Jonathan Stewart in the fourth quarter. The team said Collins had “normal feeling and complete movement” in his extremities but would be kept overnight in a hospital for observation. … Packers receiver Donald Driver had a 10-yard catch to become the Packers’ all-time leader with 9,666 receiving yards. … Stewart and De’Angelo Williams combined for 18 yards rushing, though Stewart had eight catches for 100 yards. … Smith had 156 yards receiving, but lost a fumble in the third quarter on a 25-yard catch.
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