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Panthers top 49ers in Cam's return, Shanahan's debut

Shaking off last year's massively disappointing campaign, the Panthers leaned on their smothering defense to author a 23-3 smackdown of the 49ers in Sunday's regular-season opener.

Here's what we learned from Kyle Shanahan's head-coaching debut in San Francisco:

  1. Sunday brought our first extended look at Cam Newton. After throwing just two passes all preseason on his way back from shoulder surgery, the Panthers quarterback put a smattering of pros and cons on tape.

He moved well on his feet, but Newton saw a dangerous lob into space nearly picked off by rookie Reuben Foster -- more on him below -- before a deep strike to Kelvin Benjamin was stolen away at the goal line by leaping Niners safety Jaquiski Tartt. Before halftime, Newton (14 of 25 for 171 yards) looked especially shaky missing a wide-open Ed Dickson in the end zone.

Newton has work to do in terms of seeing the field and getting synced with his newfound targets, but Cam grew more comfortable as the game crept on. His next test comes in Week 2 against a Bills squad coached by former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

  1. Brian Hoyer ran into a Panthers-shaped buzz saw on Sunday. Sacked four times by Carolina's vicious front seven, the 49ers quarterback struggled to find rhythm in the face of endless chaos. It wasn't his fault that deep-threat Marquise Goodwin failed to come down with a beautiful downfield shot that would have led to points. Hoyer's receivers dropped too many passes, but he also littered the field with off-the-mark throws and set up Carolina's first touchdown when Wes Horton body-rocked the quarterback for a strip sack. Finishing the day with a garbage-time-fueled 193 yards at 5.5 yards per throw, Hoyer is the dictionary definition of a patch under center.
  1. Crushing start for Foster, San Francisco's first-round linebacker who was lost in the first quarter to a right leg injury. The former Alabama star was quickly carted off the field, ending a debut that was already stuffed with promise. As mentioned, Foster looked like a savvy veteran diagnosing and nearly picking off Newton on an early toss. His loss would be tough to mask over for a promising front seven.
  1. The Panthers rolled out a variety of looks featuring both Jonathan Stewart (18/65) and rookie Christian McCaffrey in Carolina's backfield. After dazzling all August, McCaffrey -- 18 total touches for 83 yards -- played all over the field on Sunday, lining up next to Newton, out wide and in the slot. The 49ers made it a priority to swarm the first-rounder, but McCaffrey's presence alone threw San Francisco off the scent on Newton's nine-yard touchdown pass to Stewart. McCaffrey also lost a late-game fumble, but his workload this season figures to be monstrous.
  1. Intriguing opener for Russell Shepard. The former Bucs wideout looked spry crossing the formation on a pass from Newton that saw Shepard (2/53/1) shake off Tartt and rumble 40 yards to pay dirt for Carolina's first score. Bucs fans everywhere were left wondering where this handiwork was during four low-wattage campaigns in Tampa Bay.
  1. Shanahan did all he could to spark his offense, going for it four times on fourth down. Three of those attempts -- including a run by the goal-line -- failed.
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