Panthers Blitz

Five takeaways from Panthers' win over 49ers​

Posted September 10

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

— It wasn’t pretty, but the Carolina Panthers head back home Week 1 winners after taking down the San Francisco 49ers, 23-3, Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

The Panthers capitalized on San Francisco’s numerous mistakes, and kept the 49ers out of the end zone, to secure the 20-point victory.

With the win, Carolina moves to 3-4 in Week 1 games under the direction of head coach Ron Rivera.

Here are five takeaways from the Panthers’ 23-3 victory against the 49ers:

Cam Newton rusty in debut

Panthers All-Pro quarterback Cam Newton returned to the field Sunday afternoon after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

To the chagrin of many, Newton threw only two passes — both completions — in the preseason. Newton was also held back for much of training camp, limiting repetitions with the first-team offense.

Newton’s rustiness was on display in the first half, as he missed horribly on several passes. The worst to a wide-open Ed Dickson that would’ve easily been taken in for a 45-yard score with time winding down in the first half.

The former league MVP also threw a pick in the first half, tossing a ball intended for Kelvin Benjamin into double coverage. San Francisco’s Jaquiski Tartt came over from the safety position to make a stellar one-handed interception, but the 49ers weren’t able to capitalize.

It wasn’t all bad for Newton in the first half. He connected with newcomer Russell Shepard for a 40-yard strike on the Panthers’ third possession, making San Francisco pay after Wes Horton sack-stripped Brian Hoyer at the 49ers’ 42-yard line.

At the half, Newton was 8-of-19 for 105 yards, one interception and one touchdown. But Newton rebounded in the second half, finishing 6-of-6 for 66 yards, including a nine-yard dump down to Jonathan Stewart that was finished with a flip into pay dirt.

Newton finished 14-of-25 for 171 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in his 2017 debut; he also carried the ball six times for three yards.

Christian McCaffrey gets involved (a lot)

The Panthers’ first-round pick of the 2017 NFL Draft got plenty of run on Sunday. Rookie running back Christian McCaffery had a game-high 20 touches in his NFL debut.

McCaffrey tallied 13 carries for 47 rushing yards, and he hauled in five catches for 38 yards. The rookie had more than double the catches of any other player on the Panthers roster and ranked second on the team in receiving yards. The speedster also fielded three punts for seven yards.

The speedster made several rookie mistakes in the win, but the worst was a fumble on the Panthers first drive of the fourth quarter.

Carolina’s defense shows why it can be elite

The Panthers didn’t allow an opponent in the end zone for the first time since shutting out the Atlanta Falcons, 38-0, in Week 14 of the 2015 season.

Carolina held the 49ers to 217 total yards of offense — 166 passing and 51 rushing — and forced two turnovers.

Star Lotulelei recovered a Brian Hoyer fumble, caused by a strip-sack from Wes Horton, and Luke Kuechly picked off Hoyer on the second play of the second half.

Lotulelei quietly had a monster game, disrupting several key plays in the backfield on third and fourth downs. He finished with three tackles, a half sack and one forced fumble.

The Panthers recorded four sacks for the contest, each from different players. Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, and Horton tallied one apiece; Julius Peppers and Lotulelei were each credited with a half sack.

But the key for the Panthers on Sunday was getting off the field. Carolina held San Francisco to an abysmal 18 percent (2-for-11) on third down and 25 percent (1-for-4) on fourth down conversions.

Panthers offense excels on third down

Carolina converted on 37.2 percent of its third downs last season, which ranked No. 20 in the NFL. On Sunday, the Panthers were 53.8 percent on third downs, converting on 7-of-13 chances.

The Panthers were able to continue drives and keep the 49ers young defense on the field in 90-plus degree weather, which aided in three scoring drives of seven or more plays.

McCaffrey was picked up four of the the Panthers' third-down conversions, with two on third-and-long situations.

Carolina’s final score was fueled by an 11-play, 66-yard drive that took 6:53 off the clock, which resulted in a 20-yard field goal off the foot of Graham Gano, his third of the afternoon.

Offensive line keeps Newton’s jersey clean

What a difference a year makes. Carolina’s newly tooled offensive line did its job on Sunday, not allowing a sack on its star quarterback.

Last season, Newton was battered and bruised in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos. Denver took several big-time shots at Newton and sacked the reining MVP three times. Newton was more active running the ball in Week 1, tallying 11 carries for 54 yards and one score.

Carolina’s offensive line in 2016 allowed 36 quarterback sacks, which ranked tied with the L.A. Chargers for 13th in the league.

On Sunday, Carolina’s offensive line gave Newton plenty of time to go through his progressions and find open receivers.

For the latest Carolina Panthers news, follow WRAL Sports Fan's Panthers Blitz blog and the Panthers Blitz Podcast.

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