If Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton keeps playing like this, he’s going to push his way right into the middle of the NFL Most Valuable Player conversation once again.
Newton dazzled Sunday in a 27-24 Panthers road victory at Detroit, playing one of the most efficient games of his NFL career.
He arrived for the game in a hat that included a symbol that represented American World War II working women, one that decades later became commonly mistaken for another cultural icon of that era -- Rosie the Riveter.
He then replaced that hat with a helmet and turned in a riveting performance himself.
Newton went 26-for-33 passing for 355 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Carolina (4-1) needed every last yard to shake off a determined Lions team that nearly came all the way back from 17 points down in the fourth quarter.
It was one of those days where Newton was clearly the best player on the field.
“When Cam is playing like that, we are very hard to beat,” said Panthers tight end Ed Dickson, who had 175 of those receiving yards himself.
In the past two weeks, Newton has had the fourth-highest quarterback rating of his career (against Detroit) and the seventh-highest (against New England). After a slow start to the season in which Carolina’s offense scored only one touchdown in a nine-quarter span, Newton has been brilliant the past two weeks.
“We had a lot of people who were counting him out at the beginning of the season – really because we kind of limited some of the things he was capable of doing,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said of Newton. “But now you see him going out and running the ball again. His arm strength is back. And he’s putting the ball on the money.”
‘Stronger and stronger’
All three of Newton’s touchdown passes had a fairly high degree of difficulty.
He threw a shovel pass to Christian McCaffrey for a 6-yard TD after his initial receiver got knocked down on the play.
He improvised again on a scrambling, 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess that came after, Newton said, he “called the wrong play in the huddle.”
And then he slung a 31-yard touchdown pass into Kelvin Benjamin so perfectly that even tight coverage couldn’t prevent it.
One last strike to Benjamin – a 17-yarder on third-and-9 – effectively ended the game with a final first down on Newton’s last throw.
Newton said his surgically repaired right arm is “getting stronger and stronger,” and it sure looked that way Sunday.
The earlier part of Newton’s week was not as smooth. When Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked him a detailed question Wednesday about the physicality Funchess displayed on certain pass routes, Newton laughed and said: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”
The quarterback was excoriated for what many perceived to be a sexist remark. On Thursday night, after one of his major sponsors had deserted him, Newton apologized via a video posted on Twitter. He said his word choice was “extremely degrading and disrespectful to women” and that “the joke is really on me.”
(In a separate issue, Rodrigue also apologized Thursday for racially offensive tweets she sent from her Twitter account while in college.)
On Sunday, Newton also talked about what he had been trying to say with his original quote Wednesday.
“It was a lesson learned for me this whole week,” Newton said. “My sarcasm – trying to give somebody, you know, kind of a compliment – turned in ways I never would have even imagined.”
‘A shout-out to all the strong women’
As for the hat, which he also wore at his news conference, Newton said he had done his “homework” on the the symbol and wore a pin with that symbol in his hat as a “shout-out to all the strong women around.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is obviously glad that Newton has looked like the quarterback who directed Carolina to a 15-1 record in 2015 while winning NFL MVP honors.
“He’s gotten healthier and that’s the truth,” Rivera said of his quarterback, who has had back-to-back 300-yard games for the first time since his rookie year in 2011. “I’ve been saying this since we broke camp – it’s just a matter of him getting back to the opportunity to improve his arm strength. ...
“He really hadn’t had a training camp. Those first few games were really kind of his training camp and he was getting himself back into it. Now he’s had a couple of really good weeks. I think that’s a huge plus for him.”
It has been a huge plus for the Panthers, too, who will host another 4-1 team when they play Philadelphia in Charlotte Thursday night. And if Newton plays this well once again, they’re going to win that one, too.