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SEC In The NFL: Newton’s Time To Shine

Newton one of many impressive former SEC QBs on opening weekend

Randall Cobb stole the show on Thursday night.  Sunday afternoon, it was Cam Newton’s time to shine in the spotlight.  Returning to the same stadium where he led Auburn to a national championship in January, the Carolina Panthers QB threw for a rookie-debut record 422 yards.

“He’s had the world on his shoulders for a year now and I think he’s getting used to it,” Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. “This is a tough game. He got hit a lot. Crowd noise, but he had incredible composure out there against all odds. He was as advertised.”

Newton completed 24 of 37 passes, including two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for a touchdown. In the end, it wasn’t good enough as Carolina fell short to the Arizona Cardinals, 28-21.  Another SEC alum, LSU’s Patrick Peterson, returned a punt 89 yards for the go-ahead score.

“The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College,” Newton told reporters. “What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me.”

SEC connections abound in Newton’s record-setting performance.  The previous high for a rookie QB in an opener was Peyton Manning back in 1998 for the Colts (others cite Otto Graham back in 1950) while Newton’s 422 yards tied Matthew Stafford’s mark for the most yardage in any game during a rookie year.

Both Manning and Stafford also made news Sunday.  Manning, recovering from his recent neck surgery, had his streak of 227 consecutive starts snapped.  The Tennessee great and Indianapolis Colts veteran had never missed an NFL game.

“He’s in all of our prayers,” said Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett. “You don’t ever want to see anybody injured, especially knowing how much he loves the game and wants to be out there.”

While the Manning-less Colts were getting pasted by the Houston Texans, Stafford was leading the Detroit Lions to their first 1-0 start in four years at Tampa Bay.  Stafford, the overall number one pick out of Georgia back in 2009, was 24-of-33 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

“It was nice, it was great,” Stafford said of playing his first game that counted in 10 months. “The guys up front kept me clean … and when they do that, the sky’s the limit for this team.”

Stafford missed 13 games last year with shoulder injuries.

We haven’t heard a lot out of Florida’s Rex Grossman in recent years.  That’s because the veteran quarterback played in only 38 games in nearly eight years before supplanting Donovan McNabb in Washington.

Starting Sunday at home against the New York Giants, Grossman completed 21 of 34 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins 28-14 victory.

“I thought (Grossman) played an excellent game,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. “There was a lot of pressure up front from that defensive line, and it was hard to make big pass plays against that defense.”

Rounding out an impressive opening weekend for former SEC quarterbacks was the performance of Chicago’s Jay Cutler.  The Vanderbilt alum completed 22 of 32 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears steamrolled the Falcons 30-12.

Cutler is in his second year playing for offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

“Mike loves to throw it. Everyone in the league knows that, That’s no secret,” said Cutler, who registered his first 300-yard passing day since the opening game of 2010. “If you can protect, you’re probably going to roll up some offensive passing yards.”

A few other SEC-related notes around the league:

  • Georgia’s A.J. Green made his first NFL career catch a memorable one.  His 41-yard touchdown reception was the go-ahead score in Cincinnati’s 27-17 win over Cleveland.
  • Green spent much of the day matched up against former Florida cornerback Joe Haden.  Green’s touchdown came while the Browns were still huddled.  “It was real confusing,” Haden said. “It was not a good look for us. We feel like we beat ourselves.”
  • Former Florida Gator Percy Harvin started his season with a bang as he returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in the Minnesota Vikings 24-17 loss at San Diego.
  • Misfortune for one former SEC player spelled opportunity for another Sunday afternoon. When Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (Tennessee) couldn’t go on Sunday, Ben Tate (Auburn) got the start.  Tate rushed the ball for 116 yards with a touchdown on 24 carries in Houston’s victory over Indianapolis. A second round pick in 2010, Tate didn’t play a down last year because of torn ankle ligaments.
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