Ralph Freso, Associated Press
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.
The No. 1 pick in the draft who had struggled at times in the preseason, Newton completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
"He was everything everybody didn't expect him to be," said Steve Smith, who caught eight of those passes for 178 yards and both scores. "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. Steve Smith, who wore red-white-and-blue gloves and cleats, had eight catches for 178 yards for Carolina, including touchdown catches of 77 and 26 yards.
Kevin Kolb was 18 of 27 for 309 yards, including touchdown passes of 48 and 70 yards, in his first game for Arizona.
Peterson, the fifth overall pick in the draft out of LSU, was not surprised by Newton's debut.
"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. "I thought he had a pretty good night tonight, so we'll definitely see what the season brings for Mr. Cam."
The same could be said for Mr. Peterson.
He 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.
"Yeah, he was pretty close," Peterson said.
Kolb said "anybody else fair catches that thing."
"That just shows you the confidence that he has in himself and how tough of a kid he is," Kolb said. "He's going to be a major weapon for us."
Peterson acknowledges he has a lot to learn about the intricacies of playing cornerback in the NFL. As a punt returner, though, he's a natural.
"With me being a defensive back, I barely have a chance to get my hands on the ball," Peterson said. "That's why I love punt returns to much."
With the help of a roughing-the-passer penalty against Clark Haggans, the Panthers drove downfield late and had first down at the 11.
Four consecutive passes were incomplete, but an offside penalty on fourth down moved the ball to the Arizona 5 and gave Carolina one more chance. Newton threw over the middle to Goodson to the 2, but he was a yard shy of the first down and the Cardinals ran out the clock.
Both of Newton's TD passes came in the first half as Carolina took a 14-7 lead at the break.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, drove inside the Carolina 6 twice in the second quarter and came away with nothing.
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