CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton was treated like a starter during his preseason finale. He led one efficient drive, threw a touchdown pass and exited.
Then, after the game, his coach made it official: Newton will start for the Carolina Panthers in their opener.
Newton threw his first TD as a pro in Carolina's 33-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
"Even with this position given, it doesn't stop here," Newton said. "I can't just sit back and say, `I've arrived,' because we've got a long way to go. ... The record begins now."
The Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick out of Auburn played only the first series. He was 3 of 5 for 25 yards with the 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey against a Steelers defense that rested Troy Polamalu and several other key players. Rivera later anointed Newton as their starter Sept. 11 at Arizona.
"We didn't draft Cam to be the savior," Rivera said. "We drafted him to help lead this football team."
Charlie Batch started for Pittsburgh and was 6 of 8 for 59 yards and led a touchdown drive while playing roughly one quarter. He and Dennis Dixon are competing to back up Ben Roethlisberger, who also sat this one out.
"We asked them to come in and run some different things, with some different personnel, and I think they both showed great poise in that," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who called it "a good ending to a nice preseason for us."
Not many starters played for either team during what essentially was one last audition for players battling for roster spots and position on the depth chart, with cuts coming Saturday.
Polamalu, James Harrison and many of the other Pittsburgh starters didn't see the field for a unit that last season ranked second in the league in total defense, was its toughest against the run and helped the Steelers make their eighth Super Bowl appearance.
Without them standing in the way, Newton appeared quite comfortable.
He took just nine snaps, but that was enough to show off the combination of speed and arm strength that has the Panthers hoping he can revive the league's worst offense in 2010.
He led the Panthers 71 yards to a touchdown, and his only carry of that drive was a 19-yard run in which he took off from the pocket and made a nifty cut left to the Pittsburgh 22. That set up the touchdown pass four plays later, when he dropped back and hit Shockey with a quick strike inside the 10. The veteran tight end slipped out of Ryan Mundy's grasp on his way to the end zone to make it 7-all.
"Tonight went just how we would like it to go, with our offense playing one series," tackle Jordan Gross said. "Cam looked like he was playing his best football."
Newton's most impressive play, though, might have been his first incompletion. As Larry Foote was bringing him down during a rollout, Newton managed to fling the ball roughly 30 yards near the sideline to Shockey before Mundy broke up the pass.
"I had him in the grasp, but he's really strong," Foote said. "I struggled getting him down."
Derek Anderson replaced Newton, before Jimmy Clausen took over for him late in the third quarter. Rivera had said before the game that Newton and the starters would play at most a couple of series.
Meanwhile, Tomlin wasn't about to play many of his at all. With the opener against Baltimore 10 days away, Roethlisberger was held out of this one and watched from the sideline while Batch and Dixon continued their battle to replace the injured Byron Leftwich as the top backup.
Batch entered having thrown only four passes this preseason, but he was 5 of 6 for 60 yards on his opening drive alone and led the Steelers to a touchdown against much of Carolina's starting defense. Batch hit Mike Wallace with a quick strike inside the 10-yard line, but the receiver fumbled as he was hit near the goal line by Chris Gamble, and David Johnson recovered in the end zone to make it 7-0.
"It was good to get the rust out a little bit," Batch said. "It's one of those things where you go back and there were a lot of different things that we were working on. I was able to move a little bit, read (the) blitz and move to hot routes."
Backups for both teams turned in big scoring plays in the second quarter: Jonathan Dwyer had a 50-yard touchdown run for Pittsburgh and Anderson hit David Clowney with a 41-yard scoring pass to tie it at 14.
Anderson finished 11 of 19 for 192 yards. Clausen was 3 of 5 for 25 yards, and a fumbled snap to him by center Ryan Pugh deep inside Panthers territory set up Dixon's 15-yard touchdown pass to rookie Weslye Saunders. That made it a 16-point game barely a minute into the fourth quarter. Dixon finished 11 of 22 for 157 yards.
"I'm happy the opportunity came my way, and I tried to make the most of it," Dixon said.