In an incredible second half Monday night, Cam Newton did three things as the Carolina quarterback.
First, he got the signature touchdown drive his career needed – a 13-play, 83-yard masterpiece that provided the winning points in the Panthers’ 24-20 win. It ended with Newton’s 25-yard strike to Ted Ginn.
Second, Newton avoided the big mistake in a game where just one of those would have meant a Panther loss. Newton threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns, had no interceptions and made some of the most mind-blowing runs of his career for 62 more yards.
Third, Newton and his teammates erased some of the Panthers’ most persistent demons: Beating New England, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a decade after that group had ruined the Panthers’ dream season in the Super Bowl. This was not only a huge win for this season, it was a huge win for the franchise. It was symbolically important.
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“It was pretty cool,” Newton said.
It felt so much like that Super Bowl. There were touchdown passes flying back and forth. The Patriots had the ball for a last drive after a Panther TD. Everyone in the Carolinas who cares about football was holding their breath.
“I said jokingly in the locker room, ‘I’ve seen this story before,’” Newton said. “I’ve read this book before.”
But this time, Newton beat Brady and Carolina beat New England.
And think about this. Newton threw three touchdown passes, and none of them went to Steve Smith. He also hit Brandon LaFell for a 9-yarder and Greg Olsen for a 15-yarder. I know New England’s defense is not what it was due to injury, but the Panthers still couldn’t run the ball at all with their backs. So it was Newton throwing or Newton running – that was all the yardage there was to be had for Carolina.
As for Newton’s most spectacular play: A 14-yard run doesn’t sound like much. But Newton broke or avoided six tackles on the play and ran – according to a nifty ESPN graphic – 75.8 yards on the play to pick up those 14. It was amazing and ridiculous and sublime.
The Panthers are now 7-3, with six straight wins, but Newton has much more to do. Two quarterback duels in December with Drew Brees loom, for one thing, and now he faces a short week and a trip to Miami to face the unpredictable Dolphins.
“Realistically, we’re just 7-3,” Newton said. “We’re not No. 1, and that’s the ultimate goal. We can’t just be satisfied with the performance. It’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back.”
Newton has been such a different player this year. He is trusting his teammates more. He’s a better teammate. He is no longer pouty when things go wrong.
This was the Buffalo game all over again at the end, down to the Luke Kuechly interference call deep into the last drive. But then things changed, as they so often have this season. The flag was waved off (officials deemed the pass “uncatchable” by Patriots receiver Rob Gronkowski, who had gotten hugged by Kuechly as it was in the air).
Newton could only watch it on the sideline. But he had himself quite a game, and this time – unlike the time when Jake Delhomme also had himself quite a game 10 years ago – the Panther defense won the final battle.
After a game in San Francisco that the defense won, this time Newton and the offense won it. Newton is growing up. His team is, too.
And no matter how long Newton plays quarterback at Carolina, this will always be one of his most memorable performances.