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Cam Newton marches Carolina down field in 10-play TD drive, exits

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The 2017 preseason debut of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was brief but efficient.

And based on what the coaching and medical staff hoped to accomplish, it was successful.

The 2015 NFL MVP led the Panthers on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 9-yard scoring pass to Kelvin Benjamin over the middle, on the first series of Thursday night's 24-23 win at Jacksonville.

"We got the look we wanted in that situation," Newton said. "Kelvin ran a great route and finished the play strong."

Newton, who underwent surgery March 30 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, completed both of his pass attempts for 21 yards. His other pass was a 12-yard first-down completion to first-round pick Christian McCaffrey.

That was it for Newton, who turned the offense over to backup Derek Anderson.

"Coach [Ron] Rivera's been talking to us all offseason about being physical, and we saw it out of the gate," Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart said. "The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, and we go as far as they go.

"It felt good to have Cam back there too. So I know the offensive linemen were happy to have him back too. Just a lot of juice out there out of the gate."

But in terms of what the Panthers wanted to see out of Newton, they got everything. He ran the offense efficiently, led by the ground game of Stewart and McCaffrey, and made short, easy throws, with neither of his passes traveling more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Newton got a Carolina offense that had two turnovers on its first three drives last week against the Tennessee Titans into the end zone before heading to the sideline and putting a towel over his head.

The only other question is whether there will be soreness Friday, and there are no indications there should be. Newton made it through practice Monday and Tuesday without setbacks.

Newton said the offense wanted to bounce back from the slow start it had in the previous game against Tennessee.

"It just showed,'' he said. "A lot of guys were anxious to produce, including myself. I'm just glad we made a big splash early on. We've just got to sustain that throughout the whole game.''

Newton said he was excited when told this week he was "able to play.''

"They didn't tell me how much,'' he said. "I just wish I had played a little longer. I feel behind in a lot of ways, but the optimism of this game is we did have a great first drive.

"We've just got to keep pushing forward in practice and be ready when our number is called.''

The Panthers have exercised caution in bringing Newton back slowly from the surgery. He threw the first five days of training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before experiencing soreness and fatigue.

He then went two weeks without throwing before working in individual drills and gradually worked his way back to where he participated in full-team drills Monday and Tuesday.

Newton is coming off a 2016 season in which he completed only 52.9 percent of his passes, the second-worst rate of any quarterback last season with a minimum of 500 attempts. He was pressured a career-high 171 times.

The Panthers spent the offseason surrounding Newton with more weapons, such as McCaffrey and second-round pick Curtis Samuel, a wide receiver out of Ohio State.

They began evolving the offense to depend more on Newton getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers instead of depending on his legs to make plays.

Newton smiled when asked if he would be ready for the regular season after just one series if he doesn't play in Thursday's preseason finale against Pittsburgh.

"Absolutely,'' said Newton, who hasn't played in the preseason finale since his rookie season of 2011. "I mean, ain't got no choice. But when everything gets to going, I'm pretty sure Coach will have everybody ready to go.''