Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has received a great deal of praise for his astonishing NFL debut, but before we start engraving his name on the Rookie of the Year Trophy just yet, let's see what he does for an encore.
Newton completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards -- the most any rookie quarterback has even thrown in their first NFL game.
As expected, he kept the Arizona defense honest with his legs, but it was the accuracy and command of the offense that he showed that caught the Cardinals off-guard. Newton's poise down the stretch was very impressive. So too, was his focus on the big picture following the game. Newton didn't want to talk about his record-breaking performance. Instead, demonstrating the leadership qualities that teammates at Auburn had praised him for, Newton focused on the need to improve and the disappointment of the 28-21 loss.
"The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College," Newton told reporters following the game. "What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me."
"There's going to be a lot more things I can look back on tomorrow after I watch the film," Newton said. "One thing I know is you have to capitalize. When you're in the red zone, you can't take the sack, you can't digress."
Now, for all of the great things Newton demonstrated against the Cardinals, it is only fair to point out the generally shabby play by the Arizona defense. On many occasions, Newton was throwing to wide open targets.
Rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson was victimized on several occasions (though he provided what turned out to be the game-winning score on an 89-yard punt return in the 4th quarter). Peterson lined up against Steve Smith for much of the day and was beaten for Smith's second touchdown of the day (26 yards). Earlier in the game, Smith got behind Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson for the 77-yard score that was Newton's first score as a professional quarterback.
The Cardinals, of course, were without their best cornerback of the past several years after trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of a package to land their own new quarterback, Kevin Kolb.
The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers will give Newton a much stiffer test Sunday. Though obviously the brilliance of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and NFL Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Clay Matthews were huge reasons for Green Bay's success last season, the strong play from the Packers' defensive backfield played a critical role in securing the Lombardi Trophy. While the Philadelphia Eagles possess the "dream team" combination of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and the aforementioned Rodgers-Cromartie, for my money, the Packers' Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields is every bit as treacherous.
And after Newton's stunning debut, the trio will certainly be taking the rookie quarterback seriously.
One silver lining for Newton, his own confidence -- and that of teammates, coaches and Carolina fans -- should be high heading into this weekend's home opener.