GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)—Cam Newton's NFL debut was as magnificent as they come, except for the outcome.
Instead, another rookie scored the game winner.
Patrick Peterson made amends for a long afternoon at cornerback with an 89-yard punt return for the go-ahead touchdown and the Arizona Cardinals escaped with a 28-21 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Newton, the No. 1 draft pick playing on the same field where he led Auburn to the BCS championship in January, completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, the first rookie to throw for more than 400 yards in his NFL opener.
The Panthers had first down at the Arizona 11 late in the game, and even got an extra down on an offside call, but failed to score. Steve Smith, who wore red-white-and-blue gloves and cleats, had eight catches for 178 yards for Carolina, including touchdown plays of 77 and 26 yards.
Kevin Kolb was 18 of 27 for 309 yards and two touchdowns in his first game for Arizona. Peterson, the fifth overall pick victimized by Smith most of the afternoon, hauled in the punt and broke a tackle and darted downfield on the long run but almost paid dearly for a showboat move at the finish.
He began to strut, not realizing Carolina's Mike Goodson was gaining on him. Peterson glanced around, realized the error of his ways, and sprinted away, diving over the goal line to put Arizona ahead 28-21 with 7:15 to play.
With the help of a roughing-the-passer penalty against Clark Haggans, the Panthers drove downfield and had first down at the 11. Four consecutive passes were incomplete, but an offside penalty on fourth down moved the ball to the Arizona 5 and gave Carolina one more chance. Newton threw over the middle to Goodson to the 2, but he was a yard shy of the first down and the Cardinals ran out the clock.
Both of Newton's TD passes came in the first half as Carolina took a 14-7 lead at the break.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, drove inside the Carolina 6 twice in the second quarter and came away with nothing.
On second-and-goal from the 4, Beanie Wells, who rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries including a 7-yard touchdown run, muffed a pitch from Kolb and Carolina's Thomas Davis recovered.
After forcing a punt, Arizona drove to the Panthers 5, but a crackback block penalty against Andre Roberts drove the team back, and Jay Feely's 36-yard field goal try was wide left. Feely was 14-for-14 from inside the 40 a year ago.
The Panthers took over at their 36 with 1:03 to play in the half. Daryl Washington intercepted Newton's pass over the middle, but the play was nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty against Peterson.
Moments later, Smith beat Peterson in the corner of the end zone and Newton lofted the ball perfectly in place to give Carolina the lead in front of the stunned crowd.
Arizona went 54 yards in six plays on its first possession, with Wells scoring on the 7-yard run.
After the subsequent kickoff, the Panthers had a third-and-7 from their 23 when new defensive coordinator Ray Horton called a blitz.
In a mix up in the secondary, Smith was at least 20 yards behind the nearest defender, safety Kerry Rhodes. The Panthers' star receiver ran untouched to the end zone to tie it at 7-7 with 7:11 left in the opening quarter.
Kolb's pass under duress to wide open tight end Jeff King for 48 yards and a touchdown tied it at 14-14, but Carolina took the kickoff and went 80 yards in eight plays to take a 21-14 lead, Newton leaping over the line for the score. His air-guitar strum of the football in celebration drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Kolb found Early Doucet over the middle and the receiver broke a tackle then dashed 70 yards for the tying score with 10:48 to play.