CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Maybe all the Carolina Panthers needed was to play someone other than the Denver Broncos.
The league’s top-scoring offense from a year ago returned to form Sunday. Cam Newton threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns, and the Panthers overcame four turnovers to beat the San Francisco 49ers 46-27 in their home opener. The Panthers racked up 529 yards on offense.
Carolina lost to Denver in the Super Bowl and again in a rematch in Week 1, combining to score 30 points in those games. The Panthers averaged 31.3 points per game last season.
49ers lose to Panthers, Kaepernick kneels during anthem
49ers lose to Panthers, Kaepernick kneels during anthem x
Newton threw two TD passes to Kelvin Benjamin and one each to Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess to pass Jake Delhomme for most TD passes in franchise history with 122.
Newton showed no ill effects from the four helmet-to-helmet hits he took in Carolina’s season-opening loss to Denver. He took one shot to the head from linebacker Eli Harold late in the game after a pitchout on an option play, but quickly got to his feet.
“It’s one of things those things where the momentum sways the play calling,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “This game we were able to run the ball and it opened some things up. Last week (against Denver) we needed Cam to open some things up. Cam will play his role for us. This was an example of being able to keep him out of the running game for the most part.”
Newton’s first pass was tipped and intercepted by Antoine Bethea, leading to a 49ers field goal. But the 2015 league MVP locked in after that, completing 24 of 40 passes while running for 37 yards on six carries.
Olsen gave the Panthers (1-1) the lead for good in the second quarter when he hauled in a career-long 78-yard touchdown pass from Newton after the 49ers bit hard on play-action. That left the Pro Bowl tight end wide open on a seam route. Olsen finished with five catches for 122 yards.
Benjamin, who missed last season with a torn ACL, finished with seven catches for 108 yards and has three TD catches on the season.
“Most of the DBs that were on me were small and I was able to jump and get the ball,” Benjamin said.
Bethea said the 49ers (1-1) didn’t play up to par after their 28-0 performance against the Rams last week.
“We didn’t do a great job of getting off the field on third down,” Bethea said. “And we’re going up against a very good offense. We can tackle better, too, but everything is correctable.”
WHAT WAS THAT?: The Panthers won despite the four turnovers, including one colossal mistake by returner Ted Ginn Jr., who failed to pick up the ball on a kickoff return. After Ginn bobbled the ball twice, the 49ers recovered at the 1-yard line and scored on the next play.
FOZZY BEAR ON THE RUN: Despite losing running back Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) in the first quarter, the Panthers had no problems moving the ball against a defense that was riding high following a 28-0 win over the Rams in the season opener.
Fozzy Whittaker ran for 100 yards on 16 carries and had three catches for 31 yards.
Rivera said he has “concerns” about Stewart moving forward, but that second-year back Cameron Artis-Payne is ready for action. Artis-Payne has been inactive the last two games.
GABBERT’S DAY: Blaine Gabbert threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in the loss. Gabbert pulled the 49ers within 34-27 late with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Vance McDonald, but threw two interceptions in the game’s final five minutes.
FIRST TOUCHDOWN: Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson scored his first career touchdown when he scooped up Carlos Hyde’s fumble and returned it 9 yards to give Carolina a 7-3 lead.
49ers: Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong left in the second half with a shoulder injury.
Panthers: Stewart was limited to 9 yards rushing on five carries when he went down in the first quarter.
BY THE NUMBERS
Newton reached 121 career TD passes in 2,480 attempts, while Delhomme had 120 in 2,669 attempts.