The Carolina Panthers hammered the San Francisco 49ers, with Ron Rivera's defense shutting down Kyle Shanahan's debut. The 23-3 win would have been more lopsided had Panthers quarterback Cam Newton not missed several throws.
Rivera admitted after the victory that his quarterback needed some time to get back in gear after offseason shoulder surgery.
"The quarterback is obviously getting used to the timing. He missed some throws and he knows it," Rivera said, via the team's official website. "I had to talk him off the ledge, but he's focusing in on what he needs to get done. The nice thing is all the other guys are rallying around him. They understand he's a little rusty.
"He did some things very well, made a couple really good audibles. He's making good reads. It's just about getting comfortable and getting his rhythm."
Newton looked like a quarterback that threw a total of two passes in the preseason. The Pro Bowl signal-caller repeatedly missed high and wide. It was particularly distressing to watch Newton overshoot targets when he was standing in a clean pocket with no pressure. He finished just 14-of-25 passing for 171 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and one interception for an 87.3 passer rating.
The biggest miss came late in the second quarter when he missed a wide open tight end Ed Dickson for what should have been a touchdown. Dickson didn't have a defender within 10 yards of him, but Newton missed him by about 15 feet. It's the type of errant throw quarterbacks without Newton's pedigree get mocked for missing. The botch forced an eventual field goal. Against a more competitive opponent, those lost four points could be costly.
It's wasn't Newton's only miss. He undershot Kelvin Benjamin on a deep pass that was intercepted by 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt on a brilliant one-handed snag. He also airmailed tight end Greg Olsen several times.
"I think we all took turns being just a little off," Olsen said of the offense.
"I just don't think we really found our stride. We had our moments, but collectively I think we'll be better as the year goes on."
The plus is that the Panthers could win with mediocre quarterback play. Christian McCaffrey proved he adds another dimension to the offense, and the defense is as mean as expected. Carolina's opening slate doesn't look tough on paper, which should give Newton time to knock off that rust.