In 1995, a rookie running back by the name of Curtis Martin took the NFL by storm as he rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries in his debut for the Patriots. His then coach Bill Parcells said of the feat, “Don’t put him in Canton just yet, fellas.” 16 years and 3 days later, Cam Newton shows up.

If Curtis Martin raised eyebrows after his first start, then Cam Newton made people physically jump out of their seats following his performance on Sunday. Newton went 24/37 and threw for 422 yards, a record for a rookie on the opening day of the season. The man he surpassed to achieve that accolade? Peyton Manning. The passing yards stat alone is truly astounding and should be viewed in a proper context.

It seems redundant to even make this point, but it is extremely difficult to pass for 400 yards in the NFL. Tom Brady, prior to his incredible display against the Dolphins on Monday, had only ever thrown for over 400 yards once in his career; and in that particular game he threw for less than 422 yards. Brett Favre is known historically as a wild gunslinger, but he has only thrown for over 400 yards twice in his illustrious career. The bottom line is we should not take this stat lightly.

In addition to this, let’s remember that we are talking about the performance of a rookie in his very first game. With all the hype of being a number one pick. On the road. The pressure on Newton was palpable, with several pundits in the media not giving him a chance in his entire career let alone in week one of his first season. Even the great John Elway, number one pick in the 1983 draft, struggled horrendously on his debut. Elway completed only one pass in eight attempts, which amassed all of 14 yards.

So who could have seen this coming? Just a couple of weeks ago in the preseason, Newton could only muster a 40% completion rate. Furthermore, he was the triggerman for a team that went 2-14 last season. There has been an upgrade at tight-end, but the Panthers are still essentially the same team that was dead last in the league in 2010 in both passing yards and total yards on offense.

Now it’s time for that Bill Parcells realism to kick in. This is only one game, and it came against the Cardinals defense. It has also come at a time when quarterbacks are throwing for crazy numbers throughout the league. Around half the QB’s in the NFL threw for over 300 yards last week, and although there were only 11 occasions last season when a QB threw for over 400 yards in a game, there have already been 4 such games in the first week of the 2011 season.

The rise in passing yards could be down to the new rules and culture in place in the NFL; we all know that you can not even so much as brush the helmet of a QB without it resulting in an instant penalty. The rise could also be attributed to the shortened offseason. It seems inexplicable that the defenses would be so far behind the offenses at this early stage of the season, but a quick look at the week 1 boxscores suggests that the lockout has majorly affected one side of the ball more than the other.

So how do we properly assess Cam Newton’s debut? Well, as impressive as his numbers are, regardless of all the mitigating factors, there is something else about Newton’s performance that is far more noteworthy: Cam Newton was calm, composed and looked incredibly comfortable as a starting quarterback in this league. His center, Ryan Kalil, could not find enough superlatives to describe what he had witnessed on Sunday. Kalil emphasised Newton’s poise in the huddle, saying that “he’s calling out these long plays, he’s making decisions, he’s audibling things, he’s doing stuff that’s in the book, that they want him to do”.

Forget the yards. It is Newton’s maturity, a huge question mark going into the opener, that has shone through. Newton could not even relay a single long play call when interviewed by Jon Gruden prior to the draft; he said that he was not used to calling long plays in the huddle. Now, in the heat of battle, he is taking charge and it is inspiring his teammates. No doubt it has taken a lot of hard work, intensified by the effects of the lockout and playing under a rookie head coach.

Newton is a million miles from Canton, but the presence that he has displayed so far is not a fluke. For fans in Carolina, it was the happiest they will have ever felt following a defeat. With Newton, it’s all relative.

UPDATE: by Steven Miranda – Apologies to Oggy for getting this post up late. Since the time Oggy had written this piece, Newton has gone out and thrown for over 400-yards passing again and this time, against the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. Great job Oggy. Promise to get these articles up sooner.