Carolina Panthers fans welcomed back their former quarterback on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, but it was their returning head coach who held the day.
Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team spoiled Cam Newton’s return to Charlotte as the former Panthers head coach led the visitors past Carolina, 27-21.
Newton resigned with the team last week, after more than a year away, and had two touchdowns on his first two plays in relief in a road win at Arizona. The former Panthers top draft pick and MVP was named the starting quarterback for the home game against Washington.
Newton looked ready to take the Panthers back to his glory days, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore on his first drive.
In the second quarter, Newton ran the ball around left end, dodged several Washington tacklers and carried the ball into the end zone. Afterward, he ran to midfield and planted the ball on the Panthers’ logo at the 50-yard line.
Newton finished 21-of-27 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 46 yards on the ground.
“We planned on playing PJ (Walker, backup quarterback) some, but it seemed like Cam was in control and moving the football,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We said, ‘Hey, he’s hot.’ … I thought Cam was excellent.”
Washington matched the Panthers, score-for-score, however, and controlled the clock, keeping Newton and the offense off the field for much of the second half.
“We only had one drive in the third quarter, because they had such long drives,” Rhule said. “They were excellent on third downs, they converted just about 50 percent.”
Washington was 6-of-13 on third down and 2-of-2 on fourth, controlling the time of possession for 11 more minutes than the Panthers.
Former Panthers quarterback Taylor Heinicke led Washington on a go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter, and Newton had two chances to lead a game-winning drive.
On the first, the Carolina drive stalled at the team’s own 32. Rhule sent the punt team onto the field on fourth-and-three, then called time out and sent Newton and the offense back out.
“Analytically, you should punt that ball,” Rhule said. “You still have three time outs. Cam doesn’t truly know the two-minute (offense) as well as you’d like, but hey, I’ve got Christian McCaffrey. They haven’t stopped him all day. Let’s take a shot.”
McCaffrey took a short pass from Newton but was stopped just shy of the line to gain. Washington took over and added a field goal to lead by six. That set the stage for Newton to be the hero again.
A third-down pass to Brandon Zylstra bounced off the receiver’s hands, and Newton was brought down by the Washington line on fourth down, ending the team’s hope of a comeback and making Rivera 2-1 against his former team.