Did Cam Newton do enough to win the starting quarterback job in Thursday night’s exhibition at Cincinnati?
Under normal circumstances, probably not. But the Carolina Panthers aren’t in normal circumstances. The deck has been stacked in Newton's favor all along and it's probably best not to shuffle now. The Panthers used the first overall draft pick on Newton, have been preparing the last two weeks as if he’ll be the starter and don’t really have another attractive option.
Besides, the bar for judging Newton was pretty low. The Panthers pretty much said before the game that all Newton had to do was go into Cincinnati and not have any major disasters. He didn’t, unless you count a horrible performance by the entire defense and the offensive line against Newton.
He was by no means great or anything close to it. In fact, Newton’s accuracy is a big concern after he completed just 6 of 19 passes for 75 yards while playing deep into the third quarter. But Cincinnati’s defensive pressure might have had a lot to do with that because Newton was under attack all night.
He did throw a few nice passes to tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey and a potential touchdown throw to Steve Smith was on target, but the receiver couldn’t quite make the catch in bounds. He also had his third straight game without an interception. Perhaps the best thing Newton did all night was lead the Panthers on a touchdown drive on the same series in which he had the near miss with Smith.
Faced with a third-and-11 from Cincinnati’s 16-yard line, Newton dropped back, saw heavy pressure coming fast and tucked the ball and ran for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown the Panthers have produced with Newton at quarterback this preseason. That alone might prompt Ron Rivera to decide on Newton as his starter.
Newton’s running ability is one of his strengths and that may be another reason to start him over Jimmy Clausen. If Carolina’s offensive line is going to play this way in the regular season, the Panthers will need a quarterback who can run. Newton ran four times for 49 yards with a 26-yard run in addition to his touchdown.
Newton hasn’t "wowed" anybody in his three preseason games, but he has had some stunning moments in practice. Clausen hasn’t wowed anybody since his days at Notre Dame, maybe even since his high school days.
Newton has a ton of upside. If he can just get a little help from his teammates, he might have a chance. Besides, the Panthers really have no other choice.