GLENDALE, A.Z. -- There weren’t many highlights for Cam Newton in the desert this time.
Just another deflating loss.
Newton had four turnovers, including a costly fourth-quarter interception, and the Panthers fell to the Cardinals 22-6 in a mistake-laden game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Panthers (1-3) failed to build momentum after their 38-0 victory against the Giants in Week 3. Arizona (3-2) won for the second week in a row and improved to 4-8 all-time against the Panthers.
Newton won the BCS title game here with Auburn, and set a rookie passing record with 422 yards in the same stadium two years ago in his NFL debut against the Cardinals.
Sunday, Newton threw for more than 300 yards. But he lost a fumble and threw three interceptions, including one in the red zone when the Panthers were threatening to take the lead.
“Probably the biggest disappointment is we didn’t protect the football as well as we needed to and we didn’t protect the quarterback as well as we needed to,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We also dropped opportunities. Some of us dropped the ball. We’ve got to hold on to the football in certain situations.”
Perhaps the most costly mistake came with the Panthers threatening to take the lead.
Trailing 12-6 and facing third-and-3 from the Cardinals’ 11 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Newton looked to Steve Smith on a slant route, despite blanket coverage by cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Linebacker Daryl Washington stepped in front of the throw for the interception, returning it close to midfield.
Newton didn’t get a lot of help from his line. He was sacked seven times, including a takedown by Calais Campbell in the end zone for a Cardinals’ safety to give the Cardinals a 12-6 lead with 5:28 left in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Panthers sacked Carson Palmer only twice – two weeks after tying a franchise record with seven sacks against the Giants’ Eli Manning.
The Panthers had nine penalties, after being flagged 11 times in the first three games.
The Panthers self-destructed in the red zone becasue of dropped passes by their top two receivers.
Smith’s drop came in the end zone on the Panthers’ opening series.
“That’s not Smitty,” Newton said. “I know that. We all know that. But it happens. ... We still have to come back and hold ourselves accountable and just say, ‘Look, no matter what happens, I’m still going to be consistent enough to lead this team.’”
Later, Brandon LaFell let a pass slip through his hands on fourth-and-1 from the Cardinals’ 15.
“Steve’s going to make plays for us, he’s going to make a lot of plays,” Rivera said. “And unfortunately he dropped one that he had an opportunity to catch. Same thing with Brandon LaFell. ...
“These are guys that can’t do that in certain situations.”
The Panthers dominated the action in the first half – outgaining Arizona 259 to 118 in total yardage – but only had a 6-3 lead to show for it.
One first-half scoring threat ended when cornerback Peterson intercepted Newton’s underthrown pass to Smith near the goal line, and returned it 42 yards near midfield.
But the Panthers returned the favor, with free safety Mike Mitchell picking off a Palmer overthrow to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone.
Newton drove the Panthers quickly into Cardinals’ territory, and Graham Gano’s 51-yard field goal as time expired gave Carolina the halftime lead.