CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Aaron Murray had mixed results in his first extended NFL action.
The Kansas City rookie quarterback’s first career NFL completion went for a 43-yard touchdown to tight end Travis Kelce, but he also threw an interception that led to a Carolina touchdown in the Chiefs’ 28-16 loss to the Panthers on Sunday night.
“It felt great,” Murray said. “Once I got in the rhythm of things and then going, it felt awesome, just to be back out there playing again and just letting it fly.”
Murray’s excitement of his pretty TD toss was dampened on the next series when he tried to squeeze a pass in between two defenders and Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein intercepted it and returned it to the Chiefs 8.
Carolina scored four plays later.
“It was just a bad throw,” said Murray, who was 5 of 9 for 81 yards. “I was trying to force something that wasn’t there. That’s something that you learn. It was a great learning experience for me today, the whole game.”
Kansas City’s Alex Smith started and was 14 of 22 for 127 yards.
The Chiefs (1-1) moved the ball well early on without star running back Jamaal Charles, but were forced to settle for a pair of field goals – one of them a 54-yarder by Ryan Succup.
“We did some good things,” Smith said. “We moved the ball on a stout defense. We just didn’t finish, but self-inflicted things tonight.”
Kansas City’s search for a reliable No. 2 receiver continues.
Dwayne Bowe, who will miss the first game of the regular season because of an NFL-imposed suspension, had five catches for 62 yards but none of the Chiefs’ other wide receivers stood out.
Cam Newton made a successful return following ankle surgery and Jonathan Stewart ran for two touchdowns for the Panthers.
Newton completed 4 of 9 passes for 65 yards and led a pair of touchdown drives before exiting late in the second quarter with Carolina (1-1) up 14-6. Stewart ran for 26 yards on four carries and made a strong case to be the Panthers’ goal-line back – if not their primary ball carrier – with scoring runs of 3 and 2 yards.
Newton has been hit more than any quarterback in the NFL over the past three seasons and Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said he’d like to reduce the wear and tear on his franchise quarterback’s body.
“If we can run the ball effectively with the backs and not have to rely on him running we would much rather do that,” Rivera said.
Newton was rusty early.
Carolina’s first three possessions netted a yard and no first downs. Newton compounded the problem by overthrowing Kelvin Benjamin on a deep ball after the rookie receiver got behind the secondary.
But Stewart replaced DeAngelo Williams and immediately gave the Panthers a boost with a 17-yard carry around left end. The Panthers found their rhythm after that, driving 66 and 50 yards for touchdowns on their next two possessions.
“We had a slow start tonight, which is unacceptable,” Newton said. “We have to stay on schedule and not waste opportunities like the shot to Benji. Kansas City’s a good football team and we didn’t match their intensity early.”
He missed on five of his first six passes and was sacked for a 13-yard loss, leading to three straight three-and-outs to start the game.
Carolina benefited from a 32-yard pass interference penalty on Chiefs cornerback Ron Parker that set up Stewart’s first TD – a run in which the 5-foot-10, 235-pounder bounced off a defender and bowled his way into the end zone.
Newton connected on a 24-yard pass to Benjamin over the middle on Carolina’s next series leading to Stewart’s second score.
It was an encouraging return to the field for Stewart, a former first-round draft pick who has missed 17 games the past two seasons with foot and ankle injuries. Stewart has been limited to 516 yards rushing and one touchdown the past two seasons.
“It’s been a while since I’ve touched the end zone,” said Stewart, who sat out the first preseason game because of a strained hamstring.
The Panthers had a chance to extend their lead before halftime, but Benjamin lost his cool and head-butted Chiefs defensive back Chris Owens. That cost the Panthers 15 yards and took them out of field-goal range.
NOTES: Chiefs WR Junior Hemingway left the game with a strained hip flexor and coach Andy Reid said he will reevaluated on Monday. … Rivera wasn’t ready to declare Byron Bell his starting left tackle, but said he has played extremely well. … Rivera pulled cornerback Josh Norman from the game after he started talking trash on the field in the first half.