After Carolina’s 37-29 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula greeted quarterback Cam Newton in the locker room, and he had a question.
Shula was wearing a gray coat, slacks and black loafers, and apparently Newton had previously picked on him for his lackluster attire.
“Am I doing any better?” Shula asked Newton, who looked him up and down grinning before they slapped hands.
Eight-and-0 looks good no matter what you’re wearing.
Newton’s play Sunday against the Packers left something, but he threw for 297 yards and finishing with a higher passer rating (104.4) than the league’s all-time leader in passer rating in Aaron Rodgers.
Newton threw three touchdowns and rushed for another, but there were more points to be had and he knew it.
Had he and the offense been able to put Green Bay away with touchdowns instead of field goals, the Panthers wouldn’t have needed a Thomas Davis interception at the goal line to preserve their undefeated record.
Two of the most glaring errors were costly for the Panthers. The first came in the third quarter with the Panthers at the Green Bay 4 on third-and-2.
The Packers defense was aligned to dare the Panthers to throw. It was a defensive look the Panthers went over in practice on Friday, and Jerricho Cotchery knew the ball could be coming his way.
“I was in the slot and Big Mike (Michael Oher) at left tackle and I was saying that look, it’s coming,” Cotchery said. “They gave us that look. They gave us the look that we wanted and we were just a little off.”
Newton threw it too far in front of Cotchery on what could have been a touchdown. The Panthers settled for a 22-yard field goal.
The second mistake came late in the fourth quarter and gave the Packers hope. On a Ted Ginn Jr. out route, Newton threw the ball inside, not outside where only Ginn could catch it. Damarious Randall got the interception and put Green Bay in position to tie.
“We’ve got to find ways to finish, and I’m speaking specifically to myself,” Newton said. “Throwing that senseless interception at the end, when I know I pride myself on protecting the ball in crunch-time situations. But I’m thankful for a defense that plays lights out.”
The defense closed out the game, but they could because Newton and the offense scored 37 points, even if they left points on the field.
On the first series of the game, Newton scrambled twice and had a designed run that went for 33 yards combined. In the second quarter the offense exploded with 27 points and possessed the ball for 9 minutes and 19 seconds.
“It all starts with the quarterback – I think every team would say that,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “And what we ask him to do in the no huddle, directing traffic, getting everybody in the right spot, getting the play processed and rolling, there’s a lot things that fall on his shoulders. He thrives in that situation. He’s really good at it. Offensively we’ve become really good at it.”
When Newton misses, he usually misses high, and that was no different Sunday. He was high to Ginn on a slant and was high to Olsen down the middle on what would have been a touchdown.
But he also showed flashes of brilliance. The 52-yard pass to Devin Funchess, with a defender draped all over him, hit Funchess in stride. He found Philly Brown for a 39-yard touchdown that fell into the breadbasket, too.
Newton went the entire day without being sacked, but he wasn’t able to avoid getting hit. On an early fourth quarter scramble, Newton seemed to injure his left shoulder when going to the ground and being hit by Green Bay linebacker Jake Ryan.
He was slow to get up, and he favored the arm while the play was being reviewed.
After the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton got the wind knocked out of him.
Newton was asked after the game if he was injured or if he was just short of breath.
“Um,” Newton said before pausing. “Aye, I’m all right. I’m 8-0.”