CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has his way, Cam Newton won’t be running as many read-option plays as he has in the past.
If Jonathan Stewart runs the way he did Sunday night, Newton won’t need to.
Newton made a successful return following ankle surgery, Stewart ran for two touchdowns and the Panthers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 28-16 in a preseason game.
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 Rivera has said he’d like to reduce the wear and tear on his franchise quarterback.
“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.
And that’s fine with Newton.
“I’m trying to win football games and if that is saying, ‘Cam hand the ball off every play. Cam run the ball down the field 20 yards like a chicken with his head cut off every play. Cam drop back and throw the ball. Cam go get everybody a drink of water.’ … Whatever is asked of me, I will do to try to win the football game,” Newton 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.”
Kansas City’s Alex Smith finished 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.
Rookie quarterback Aaron Murray’s first NFL pass completion was for a 43-yard touchdown strike to tight end Travis Kelce, but he later threw an interception leading to a Carolina touchdown.
Newton had to shake off some early rust.
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. Coach Andy Reid said Hemingway he will re-evaluated 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.