CHARLOTTE, N.C. Cam Newton is now 1-1 in games this season against quarterbacks also taken in the first round of last April's NFL draft.
Newton and the Carolina Panthers defeated Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville in September, but Sunday fell to Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings.
In fairness, this isn't a judgment on Newton, just an observation, because he was oh-so close to having an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in such matchups. But veteran placekicker Olindo Mare missed a potential game-tying 31-yard field goalwith 27 seconds left, ending the Panthers' chances in a 24-21 loss at Bank of America Stadium.
It wasn't that Newton bore no responsibility for his team's defeat. The top overall pick in last spring's draft fumbled twice in the first half, leading to Minnesota touchdown drives that combined for just 56 total yards. Minnesota also required just two plays to find the end zone both times.
But other than that, Newton was terrific. He completed 22 of 35 pass attempts for 290 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Those figures would have been more impressive if not for five drops by Panthers receivers.
Ponder was selected 12th overall by the Vikings, who also brought in Donovan McNabb in the offseason to help easethe rookie from Florida State into the lineup. But coach Leslie Frazier switched to Ponder after six games, with his second start here Sunday.
The coach was impressed with what he saw.
"I'm extremely excited about the way Christian has taken over the leadership role on our team," Frazier said. "Really, not just with our offense. He's done a terrific job. And (after) his second start, this gives you a lot of hope about the future of our team."
Even though a pair of rookies were under center for both teams, the game played out more like a pair of veterans were running things.
Ponder completed 18 of 28 pass attempts for 236 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked four times and hit a dozen others, but it never bothered him. He kept plugging away, just like the rest of his team.
And while beating Newton may come with a special tint, Ponder wasn't too interested in going in that direction when asked about the matchup.
"Yeah, but it's satisfying getting a win no matter what, Cam played extremely well," Ponder said. "He had three touchdown passes and had a drive at the end. But fortunately for us, the ball bounced our way and they missed a field goal. He looked really good and will keep getting better. I'm proud of him; am excited for him."
Newton wasn't much in the mood to talk after the game. He defended Mare and said it was a team loss. The only thing he got into the nitty gritty about was when he was asked about the three consecutive three-and-outs by the offense in the second half.
"It's execution, my man, it's execution," Newton said. "Running the football, passing the football, we just hit a brick wall."
Newton's the so-called front-runner. He was the top pick, and he's putting together one of the great rookie seasons ever for an NFL quarterback. So talking about Ponder wasn't near his radar, just like Gabbert wasn't when he defeated the former Missouri star last month.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder also didn't discuss his fumbles. In fact, he usually holds himself quite accountable for mistakes, but never mentioned the gaffes.
Ponder got the victory, one he will remember for a long time. And it's a loss that will stick with Newton, as well, but for a different reason.