WEEK 10: Cam Newton scores touchdown in his first play during game against Cardinals

GLENDALE, Arizona — Quarterback Cam Newton scored a touchdown on his first play against the Arizona Cardinals since being back with the Carolina Panthers.

Quarterback P.J. Walker started but within five minutes, Newton entered the game.

After that touchdown, Newton moved into second place in Panthers history in scrimmage touchdowns, with 59.

The team had activated Newton ahead of Sunday’s game, according to Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown.

This comes after the Panthers announced on Thursday that it had agreed to terms with the 32-year-old quarterback, bringing the former No. 1 overall pick back to Charlotte.

The Panthers announced they’ve signed Newton to a one-year contract, bringing him back to the franchise that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011 -- and later cut him prior to the 2020 season after he lost eight straight games as a starter.

“A healthy Cam Newton is a special player,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said on Thursday.

Safety Juston Burris has also been activated.

NFL-best Cardinals try to keep mojo against struggling Panthers

The Arizona Cardinals sit at the top of the NFL through the first half of the season with an 8-1 record.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is proud of what the team has accomplished but also realizes the hard part is just beginning. Joseph said the best NFL teams continue to evolve as the calendar hits November and December. That task begins Sunday when they host the Carolina Panthers

Carolina has lost five of its last six games. The Cardinals are fighting through injuries to key players. It’s unclear if quarterback Kyler Murray and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be available.

CARDINALS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE

Vance Joseph thinks it’s great the Arizona Cardinals have an 8-1 record, which is tops in the NFL.

The defensive coordinator has also been around long enough to know it doesn’t mean much as the calendar moves to November and December.

“The good teams in this league in the second half of the year, they don’t stay the same,” Joseph said. “They adjust before they have to adjust. Does that make sense? Because the good teams understand that it’s going to get harder every week. Teams have two months of film on you.”

That film will show that the Cardinals have been one of the NFL’s best through nine games on both offense and defense. They’ll try to continue those trends against the Carolina Panthers (4-5) on Sunday.

The Cardinals have continued their winning ways despite injuries to key personnel, especially on offense. Quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle) and receiver DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) missed last week’s game against the 49ers, which Arizona still won 31-17.

Those two haven’t practiced this week either, calling into question their status against the Panthers. If Murray can’t play, veteran backup Colt McCoy showed he can handle the offense, completing 22 of 26 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown in his first start of the season.

The Panthers are desperately trying to stay in the playoff hunt after losing five of their past six games. Carolina made big news Thursday by signing veteran quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year deal, but it’s unclear if the 2015 Most Valuable Player will be able to help by Sunday.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘I’m back’: Panthers legend Cam Newton returning to Charlotte)

WALKER’S OPPORTUNITY

Second-year quarterback P.J. Walker will likely get a chance to lead the Panthers on Sunday with Sam Darnold out at least four weeks with a shoulder injury.

It might be Walker’s only opportunity to make a good impression: The Panthers probably aren’t paying Newton up to $10 million to sit on the sideline.

Walker was 1-0 as a fill-in starter last season, but threw two interceptions in the red zone.

Walker played for Panthers coach Matt Rhule at Temple and then signed with the Panthers after a successful stint in the XFL, where he was the league’s top player before it was shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m going to just revert back to when I played in the XFL, to be honest,” Walker said. “I had a lot of fun, enjoyed the moment. I’m extremely excited, but when I go out there, I want to stay extremely excited, because the guys around me need that energy, need that juice, and I want to bring it on Sunday. That’s the most important thing — I want to bring that juice.”

He may need more than juice. Walker inherits an offense that has scored just one touchdown in its last 36 possessions.

GOLDEN AGE

Linebacker Markus Golden has emerged as arguably the best player on the Cardinals defense and his blue-collar personality is widely respected by teammates.

The 30-year-old veteran — known by the nickname “Junk” — leads the team with nine sacks this season. He has helped the Cardinals keep a consistent pass rush despite losing three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who is likely done for the season with a shoulder injury.

Golden has spent 5 1/2 of his seven NFL seasons with Arizona. He signed with the New York Giants in 2019, but by the middle of 2020, the Cardinals wanted him back enough that they traded for him.

McCAFFREY’S ROLE

The Panthers wanted to ease Christian McCaffrey back into the game last Sunday after he missed five weeks with a hamstring injury. The team did just that with McCaffrey playing just 49% of the team’s offensive plays. He normally plays upward of 90% of the team’s offensive plays.

McCaffrey still managed to gain 106 yards from scrimmage despite his limited role. But expect his number of snaps to increase as the weeks go on, beginning on Sunday.

TOUCHDOWN JAMES

The best offseason acquisition by the Cardinals might have been signing running back James Conner, who is tied for the NFL’s lead in rushing touchdowns with 10.

Conner has consistently found the end zone despite splitting time in the backfield with Chase Edmonds. The 26-year-old has scored his 10 TDs despite running for a relatively modest 454 yards.

That might change against the Panthers: Edmonds (ankle) doesn’t look like he’ll play Sunday, which means Conner will likely get the majority of the carries. Some of the workload could also go to Eno Benjamin, who scored his first career touchdown last weekend against the 49ers on a spectacular 21-yard run.

NEW-LOOK OFFENSIVE LINE

The Panthers’ already subpar offensive line lost starting center Matt Paradis to a season-ending torn ACL injury last Sunday and left tackle Cam Erving to short-term injured reserve with a strained calf.

The Panthers tried right tackle Taylor Moton at left tackle earlier this season, but they don’t like the idea of weakening two positions by moving him to that side. Instead, Rhule is expected to start Dennis Daley at left tackle and Pat Elflein at center. Carolina has surrendered 25 sacks this season and the Cardinals will likely be looking to bring the pressure.

CAROLINA (4-5) at ARIZONA (8-1)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EDT, Fox

BETTING LINE: Cardinals by 10 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Panthers 4-5; Cardinals 7-2.

SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 13-5.

LAST MEETING: Panthers beat Cardinals 31-21 on Oct. 4, 2020, at Carolina.

LAST WEEK: Patriots beat Panthers 24-6; Cardinals beat 49ers 31-17.

PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (27), RUSH (17), PASS (29), SCORING (26).

PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (2), RUSH (19), PASS (2), SCORING (7).

CARDINALS OFFENSE: OVERALL (5), RUSH (8), PASS (9), SCORING (2).

CARDINALS DEFENSE: OVERALL (4), RUSH (18), PASS (6), SCORING (3).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Panthers minus-5; Cardinals plus-8.

PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: OLB Haason Reddick. Reddick had 12 ½ sacks for the Cardinals last season and his production hasn’t waned since joining the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on a one-year, $6 million deal. Reddick leads the Panthers with 8 ½ sacks, which rank tied for sixth in the league. He’s been the team’s most consistent defensive player and is always a threat to make a big play.

CARDINALS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB James Conner. He’s tied for the NFL lead with 10 rushing touchdowns this season and his bruising style has been perfect for the Cardinals since he signed with the team during the offseason. Conner’s role could be even bigger on Sunday considering the team’s other main running back Chase Edmonds is likely sidelined with an ankle injury.

KEY MATCHUP: Cardinals pass rush vs. Panthers QB P.J. Walker. Arizona has been among the NFL’s best defensive teams this season and one big reason is the pass rush. The Cardinals have been led by linebacker Markus Golden and edge rusher Chandler Jones, who have combined for 15 sacks. They’ll try to make life hard on Walker, who is making his second career start.

KEY INJURIES: Walker gets the start in place of Sam Darnold at quarterback. Walker is 1-0 as an NFL starter but has thrown just one touchdown pass and five interceptions during his career. ... Carolina added former star quarterback Cam Newton on Thursday. His status is uncertain for Sunday. ... The Panthers will also be without two key starters on the offensive line in center Matt Paradis and left tackle Cam Erving (calf). Paradis is out for the season with a torn ACL. ... Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he will likely make a game-time decision on the status of defensive end Brian Burns (ankle). ... Arizona QB Kyler Murray (ankle) and WR DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) didn’t play last week. Coach Kliff Kingsbury says both are “day to day” going into this game. ... Edmonds (ankle) is likely out for the Carolina game and possibly longer. ... The Cardinals hope WR A.J. Green (reserve/COVID-19 list) could play on Sunday. ... S Budda Baker is dealing with concussion and knee issues, while rookie WR Rondale Moore is also dealing with a concussion/neck injury ... OLs Justin Pugh (calf) and Max Garcia (Achilles tendon) are nursing injuries.

SERIES NOTES: Carolina has a five-game winning streak against the Cardinals and all of the wins were by at least 10 points. Two of them were in the postseason. ... Arizona’s last win in the series was at home in 2013.

STATS AND STUFF: The Panthers have lost five of their last six games. ... Carolina has scored just one touchdown in its last 36 possessions. ... RB Christian McCaffrey returned to action last week after missing five games with a hamstring injury and had 106 yards from scrimmage. ... The Panthers have allowed 25 sacks, tied for sixth most in the NFL. ... WR Robby Anderson has been targeted 53 times but has just 19 catches. ... Panthers TEs Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble have combined for just 21 receptions. ... Panthers K Zane Gonzalez has made 12 straight field goals, the longest streak in the NFC. ... DE Brian Burns has 5 ½ sacks. ... The Panthers have allowed seven TD passes of 15 yards or more. ... Arizona is trying to improve to 9-1, which would tie a franchise best set in 2014 and 1948. ... If Murray plays, he needs 31 yards passing to become the fourth-youngest QB in NFL history with 10,000 career yards passing. ... Golden is the only player in the NFL with at least nine sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the NFL this season. ... The Cardinals have scored at least 30 points and gained at least 400 yards in five games, which leads the league. They Cardinals are scoring 30.8 points per game, second in the league behind Tampa Bay.

FANTASY TIP: If you’re in a deep league, Cardinals RB Eno Benjamin might be worth a look. He’s still available in many leagues and could see an increased role if Edmonds can’t play. His spectacular 21-yard touchdown run against the 49ers is evidence that he can contribute.

(WATCH BELOW: Superman returns: Cam Newton rejoins Carolina Panthers)