When he is at his best – as he has been for almost all of this 10-0 Carolina Panthers’ season – quarterback Cam Newton can beat you in all sorts of different ways.
To call him a running quarterback does Newton a disservice, for he can eviscerate teams solely with his arm.
On Sunday, as Carolina whipped Washington 44-16 on a crisp Charlotte afternoon, Newton did just that. He threw a career-high five touchdown passes, hardly ran the ball and led a rout so complete that the Panthers played their backups for most of the fourth quarter.
“If our quarterback throws five touchdowns, we’re going to be in pretty good shape,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who caught one of the five.
After two straight Sundays in which Newton caused a stir by 1) disposing of a Green Bay fan’s banner and 2) doing an extended touchdown dance that offended a letter-writing mother in Tennessee, this time Newton chose to make his mark inside the stadium by more conventional means.
As little as Newton ran on Sunday and as accurately as he threw, he could have been Tom Brady.
Newton, who joined the Panthers in 2011, had never thrown for more than three scores before in an NFL game. He had four passing touchdowns by halftime in this one, as the Panthers’ defense kept setting Carolina up in great field position, and the offense kept converting.
The magic number for Carolina was five on Sunday – five Newton TDs, five sacks by the Panthers’ defense and five turnovers caused by that same defense. It led to Carolina’s easiest and most emphatic victory of the season over a Washington team that used to rule the hearts and minds of many sports fans in the Carolinas before the Panthers were born in 1995.
Newton came to his postgame news conference wearing golden, glittery shoes and a fox tail clipped to his belt (which made some wonder if an animal-rights group like PETA would be this week’s version of “Tennessee Mom.”)
That outfit constituted the flashiest he had been all day. His five TD passes were as short and effective as an Ernest Hemingway sentence. They covered 12, 3, 2, 5 and 5 yards.
The quarterback also ran the ball four times for 16 yards. Nowhere in the entire game did Newton have one of those incredible highlight-film individual efforts that gets replayed 1,000 times. He was just remarkably efficient, lasering a touchdown pass to a receiver every 6.8 times he threw the ball.
Said Newton: “I’ve said it since Day One. I’m not really caring about what people think as long as I’ve got the trust in this organization and more importantly guys on the field with me. I’ve always kind of labeled myself as a pocket passer with the ability to run.”
The Panthers have won 15 of their last 16 games dating back to the 2014 season. So a 28-point victory was taken with a more matter-of-fact attitude than you might expect, as were Newton’s five TD passes. When asked about Newton’s performance, Coach Ron Rivera started off with: “I thought he did some nice things.”
Well, yeah. I’d say 44 points worth of offense was pretty nice.
After averaging 20.5 TD passes per season in his first four years, Newton is already at 20 TD passes in 2015 and still has six regular-season games left. The Panthers now boast at least a four-game lead over everyone else in the NFC South division.
In the meantime, Newton is getting some consideration as the possible NFL Most Valuable Player (although Brady is still the favorite). Washington coach Jay Gruden said he believed Newton should be in the hunt for that trophy.
“I think if you are the starting quarterback on a football team that is 10-0,” Gruden said, “then you should be getting consideration.”
Next up for Newton and Carolina: a 4:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas, played before a huge national TV audience stuffed with turkey. It will be Carolina’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day game and yet another chance for the quarterback and his team to show how good they really are in what is becoming an extraordinary year.
“Our greatest victories aren’t behind us,” Rivera said. “They are in front of us.”