No matter how he feels on the inside, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton always wants to look the part.
He has his own clothing line, and his postgame outfits frequently receive national attention.
Sunday, after Carolina’s 37-37 tie with Cincinnati, Newton knew he’d feel his ankle throbbing on Monday after rushing 17 times for 107 yards. But Newton finally played like the dual-threat quarterback he had been in his first three seasons in the NFL, and he wanted to look good doing it.
“Those things came to fruition today,” Newton said. “I felt better and hopefully it looked like I ran better.”
Six weeks into the regular season, the Panthers unleashed Newton to run the ball after surgery on his left ankle in March. Newton had been held back for weeks, but his 17 rushes Sunday were three more than in his previous four games combined.
The Panthers’ trainers did more physical therapy with Newton last week, working on strengthening his ankle and range of motion.
As badly as Carolina’s offense has needed Newton’s rushing threat, the Panthers weren’t going to jeopardize his long-term health.
“I said from the beginning we were not going to make any (decisions) that put the young man at risk. He’s our franchise quarterback,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And we waited, we took our time.
“He did everything he was asked to do in preparation for today. Today was as good a day as it could have been. I don’t want to declare him back because I’m not the doctor, but I think he’s pretty close.”
Newton’s 107 rushing yards were the most he had totaled on the ground since the 2012 Week 14 win against Atlanta, when he had 116 on nine carries.
He also had 284 passing yards Sunday, completing 29 of 46 with two touchdowns and an interception.
“Cam just brings that explosive element of the offense,” center Ryan Kalil said.
“When you add that element, it’s just one more thing you’ve got to worry about it. I think that’s part of our identity and part of what we’ve become. ... So having some of that back is huge.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said early last week he would begin adding more rushing plays for Newton to the offense’s inventory as Newton’s health progressed.
The Bengals’ linebackers were repeatedly fooled on the zone read, regularly going for the fake to running backs Fozzy Whittaker and Darrin Reaves – who together averaged 2.3 yards on 17 carries.
“When you call one play and it gets 10-plus (yards), you highlight that play moving forward,” said Newton, who had three rushes of 10 or more yards. “They were obviously read plays, but dictated upon what the defense gives you, it’s on the quarterback to pull it. So when you pull it, time and time again you keep getting numerous yards, you have to keep calling it.”
Newton couldn’t help but see the irony Sunday. For his first three years, fans and pundits said Newton needed to run less and learn to be a pocket passer.
This season, Newton strengthened his pocket passing because of his bum ankle.
Sunday, Newton was back to his old self, and there may be no going back.
“When I was running, people were saying, ‘Well, don’t you think you’re running too much?’ ” Newton said. “But now in the situation today, I was doing whatever coach asked. It was there for me to take.”