Carolina Panthers

The Panthers – and their quarterback – are playing emotionally, and that matters

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was not just mobile on Sunday, he was everywhere.

Up and down the sideline he paced, animated in his incessant movement. At times he turned to the crowd, pumping his arms and screaming, high-fiving them when he could get close and slapping his hands on the pads and helmets of teammates, a frenetic cacophony of constant motion and emotion.

And as another Newton said, a body in motion will remain in motion ...

Up the quarterback stretched, up and over Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant and past the plane of the end zone as Deion Jones tried to drag him down. It was a posterization of a touchdown that will loom long in the heads of the Falcons as they scrutinize tape from the 20-17 Carolina victory on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

And over a pile Newton leaped, too, when he realized he couldn’t simply force his way through the mass of churning bodies on the fourth down conversion he persuaded – pleaded with – head coach Ron Rivera to attempt.

“I was trying to see where (the ball) was,” said Rivera, of the quarterback sneak Newton ran on fourth and 1, gaining 2 yards and the conversion. Rivera sent the field goal unit out (the ball was on the Falcons’ 30), and Newton ran to the sideline shouting that he could get it if Rivera went for it.

“I trusted him, I really did. So I threw the challenge flag, partly because they were screaming in my ear that he had gotten the first down. ... Then they said, ‘Coach, I’m not sure (the referees) are going to give it to him because he rolled backward.’

“Then I thought, ‘OK. Let’s go for it.’ We were in a good spot and Cam was so emphatic that he knew he was going to get it.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’ve got it.’ That’s exactly what he said. So I said, ‘OK, let’s go get it then.”

The 2-yard carry was a small part of a game in which Newton led the team a fourth consecutive week in rushing yards, with 86 on nine carries.

He did so Sunday almost with abandon – not the reckless kind, but the kind of abandon that meant, he said later, he was without worry for “my body, my ligaments, nothing,” – the very thing coaches implied they were trying to preserve when alluding in the preseason to limiting Newton’s carries.

“I’m just trying to win football games, and at a fast and rapid pace,” he said.

No, it was more a “calculated abandon,” if there exists such a thing, for two reasons: One, Newton was excellent in his reads and made Atlanta’s defense start respecting the run as teams have not done against Carolina (6-3) for weeks. Running back Christian McCaffrey helped, too, with a career-high 66 yards and a touchdown.

But when Newton found success, he found it in a big way – including a 34-yard gash later spoiled by a turnover from Jonathan Stewart.

“He sees opportunities, he takes them. One of the nakeds (a bootleg) he ran was really what he read,” said Rivera. “It wasn’t called, it was his decision. And he made a hell of a decision.”

Two, Newton knows what using his legs with success does for his team. It’s not just about keeping spirits lifted on the sideline, or in the crowd.

Just ask tight end Ed Dickson.

“For our quarterback to sacrifice his body like that, for the greater need of the team, I’d do anything for that quarterback,” Dickson said. “It says a lot, the characteristics of him and the competitor in him. He can go through somebody, and he can go over somebody. That’s a leader. That’s our quarterback.”

When the team is down, and not looking “motivated” – as was the case when Carolina faced a 10-0 deficit after two fumbles by Stewart – seeing Newton take matters into his own hands gets the team back on track, Dickson said.

“Not many quarterbacks can do that,” he said. “They lead by different ways. But he’s a leader and going to lead the way he leads.”

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) dives over the goal line for a touchdown against Atlanta Falcons' Desmond Trufant (21) and Deion Jones (45) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) Mike McCarn AP

Newton said he did a lot of “self-scouting” over the past several weeks, as Carolina’s offense continued to sputter and its run game gasped for life.

“This is when you go home that everyone’s talking about football, and you don’t think anybody really knows or they’re talking about everything that doesn’t go right, and never giving credit on what’s going right,” Newton said. “But one thing that stuck with me is when the Panthers are emotionless, that’s when good things don’t happen.”

A little emotion was needed. And Newton knows better than most that the team’s spirits go as his do.

“So whether you’ve got to fake it, whatever you’ve got to do, if we can get Bank of America Stadium with a pulse,” he said, “that’s when we’re at our best.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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