Now that was the Cam Newton we remember from 2011.
After rushing the ball only five times for 4 yards against Tampa Bay, Newton ran for 71 yards on 13 carries Sunday. Then he threw for 253 yards more and ended up with his second-highest NFL quarterback rating ever (129.2) in Carolinas 35-27 win over New Orleans.
Newton did almost everything very well. His fake throw on a play in which he sneakily handed the ball off to Brandon LaFell on a reverse that gained 25 yards was deft. He ran 40 yards on an option and scored on another run. He found Steve Smith wide open on a blown coverage for 66 yards.
I was as shocked as you guys were, Newton said of seeing Smith all alone on the right sideline. I was thinking first off I better not overthrow him.
About the only thing Newton didnt do well was execute an option to the left on fourth-and-inches in the second quarter when Carolina was on the New Orleans 4. I was straddling the fence on, Should I keep it or should I pitch it? Newton said.
He ended up trying to do first one and then the other and lost a fumble. But that wasnt totally his fault the play call was suspect, too and it was quickly forgotten on an afternoon when Carolina put up 35 points. Newton was very good Sunday. And when he plays like that, the Panthers look like a playoff team.
• Its weird to say that a defense that gave up almost 500 yards and 27 points played pretty well, but you could say that about Carolinas defense Sunday.
• When asked after the game if he thought the Panthers were catching up to the Saints in offensive weaponry, Smith said: You know to be honest, yeah. I think we are.
• Kealoha Pilares made only one catch Sunday, but it was essential. With Newton throwing into the right flat, Pilares came back to the ball hard on a pass that looked like it might get picked off and instead grabbed it and went for a 6-yard gain.
• You know what wasnt there Sunday and wasnt missed at all? A key Panthers special-teams error of the sort that has haunted them so much in recent games.
• Charlotte product Hakeem Nicks will provide another big test for the Carolina secondary Thursday when the Panthers host the N.Y. Giants. Nicks caught 10 passes for 199 yards in the Giants wild 41-34 win over Tampa Sunday.