As the Carolina Panthers head toward going with a rookie as their opening-day quarterback, it’s worth looking back at the last time this happened.
All indications are No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton will be the quarterback when the Panthers open the regular season Sept. 11 at Arizona. It appears all Newton has to do to hold off Jimmy Clausen on Thursday night in Cincinnati is play respectably -- keep turnovers to a minimum and appear to know the offense.
The last time a Carolina quarterback needed the same preseason result to secure a starting job, he ended up flopping so badly that the Panthers had no choice but to hand the starting job to a rookie who had just won a Heisman Trophy.
Yes, Carolina fans, Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of Jeff Lewis’ implosion and the sudden ascension of Chris Weinke to the starting role. On Aug. 23, 2001, the Panthers went up to Baltimore for their third preseason game.
Lewis hadn’t shown much in the first two preseason games, but for reasons no one else ever could seem to figure out, coach George Seifert was intent on making him the starting quarterback. Lewis made sure that never happened.
In perhaps the ugliest five-minute span any quarterback ever has experienced, Lewis threw three interceptions.
“Jeff was a nice guy, but when it came down to it he couldn’t play,” former Carolina center Frank Garcia said in this fine retrospective on the Panthers by Steve Reed. “He couldn’t take a snap from center. He would pull out early on the snap because he was so lost in the other things going on around him. He’d get so lost he’d just blow a gasket.”
There was more than just a gasket blown. The season was ruined and this started the end of Seifert’s days as a head coach. The Panthers cut Lewis, who never played in the NFL again. They went with Weinke as their starter and won the opener at Minnesota. But the Panthers ended up losing their next 15 games.
So Newton can go into Cincinnati and win the job. He just has to make sure he doesn’t “Lewis’’ it.