Early take on Newton and Clausen

It’s safe to assume Ron Rivera isn’t going to decide on a starting quarterback Saturday night, Sunday or any time soon.

That’s probably the smartest move the new coach of the Carolina Panthers can make. He needs to let the competition between No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton and second-year pro Jimmy Clausen play out and unfold naturally.

Clausen almost made it easy for the Panthers to just hand the job straight to Newton when he was intercepted on the third offensive snap of Saturday night’s exhibition with the New York Giants. In a scene straight out of his disastrous rookie season, Clausen threw a pass to running back DeAngelo Williams, who wasn’t facing the ball. Linebacker Michael Boley, not a huge playmaker, intercepted and returned it for a touchdown.

But Clausen bounced back, later connecting with tight end Greg Olsen on a touchdown pass. Clausen also showed some savvy, once wisely throwing the ball away when everyone was covered and getting away from pressure a couple of times.

Clausen played the first quarter and completed four of seven passes for 61 yards. Newton took over at the start of the second quarter to loud cheers from the crowd in Bank of America Stadium.

Newton was far from perfect, but he didn’t have any disastrous plays like Clausen’s interception. He never looked lost and he also flashed big-play ability. The numbers (8-of-19 for 134 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions) weren’t spectacular, but there were memorable strong throws to Olsen and Armanti Edwards.

There were several times when Newton made good throws that were disrupted by good coverage. But keep in mind that Newton was playing with second- and third-team wide receivers, who had trouble getting separation from defensive backs, and Edwards didn’t help when he failed to hold onto a nice pass from Newton in the third quarter.

Give Newton a healthy Steve Smith, who sat out with an injured finger, and the results might have been spectacular. Newton, who played into the fourth quarter, didn’t have the luxury of playing with running backs Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and played behind backups on the offensive line.

Rivera will have plenty to think about as he reviews the film and ponders who will start next week’s game at Miami and who will start the regular-season opener at Arizona.

I think the Panthers should go with Newton. He has way more upside than Clausen. Plus, as Clausen’s interception suggested, Newton might not have as much downside.