CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Cam Newton knew it would be difficult to protect the football amid a torrential downpour that slowed the game to a crawl and made the field a slick, puddle-filled mess.
Yet a week after throwing three interceptions, Newton avoided any major mistakes and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Greg Olsen to help the Carolina Panthers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 16-10 on Sunday.
The No. 1 overall draft pick had thrown for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games, and twice drove the Panthers within reach of a tying score in the final minutes only to come up short. This time, Newton overthrew receivers and had trouble creating the big passing plays he made look so easy against Arizona and Green Bay.
Then he came through with a clutch drive to earn his first NFL victory.
``At times, the defense wasn't giving me the looks that we were wanting,' Newton said. ``That's one where you have to make up your decision in your mind as a quarterback: Are you going to force it to get a completion or are you just going to check it down to your backs? ... Today was a prime example of you just managing the game and just getting it to your backs and keeping the chains going.'
Newton finished 18 for 34 for 158 yards against the Jaguars and their own highly drafted rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. It didn't matter, though, considering he had just earned his first victory since leading Auburn past Oregon in last season's BCS championship game.
He hit on all three throws during the go-ahead drive. On the last, he went over the middle to Olsen, who broke free of a tackle by Daryl Smith and sprinted to the left side for the touchdown.
Newton also found Olsen for the 2-point conversion that erased the 10-5 halftime deficit.
``I'm telling you, he's even-keeled the entire time out there,' Panthers offensive lineman Jordan Gross said. ``He handles everything great. He's a natural leader. He doesn't have a captain's patch on his chest, but everybody thinks he is one.'
At least some blame went to the heavy rain that arrived in the second quarter, sending players hydroplaning and kicking up walls of water as they slid to the sloppy turf on tackles.
Gabbert, the 10th pick of the draft, threw for 139 yards in his starting debut. That included a 36-yard touchdown pass to Mike Thomas on the final play of the first half, leading to a steady series of boos from the drenched home fans who hadn't already fled to the safety of the concourse.
``It was a good start for him, considering it was a hurricane,' said Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 122 yards. ``He's going to be a good quarterback, and we've got to continue to grow with him.'
Gabbert even had a chance to snatch the victory from Newton in the final minute, driving the Jaguars to the Carolina 36 in the final seconds. But linebacker Thomas Williams batted away Gabbert's final pass for Jason Hill as the clock expired.
Gabbert completed 12 of 21 passes and had three fumbled snaps - the Jaguars recovered each one - to go with an interception.
``We got the right look most of the day,' Gabbert said. ``We knew what they were going to do. We made the right calls, had the correct blocking. We just failed to execute.'
The Panthers seriously considered taking Gabbert with the top pick before deciding on the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn. The decision has paid off so far, with Newton energizing the Charlotte area while giving the franchise the type of exciting player it's never really had.
``He settled in and made some good decisions,' said Ron Rivera, who earned his first win as Panthers coach. ``If he continues to do that, it gives us a chance to win. If we give ourselves a chance to win, I think we will win a few more.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved