The self-proclaimed "icon and entertainer" is back on track after a slow start to the 2012 season.
After avoiding the rookie wall last season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton experienced a sophomore landslide this year until finding his footing during a 30–22 win on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
Newton completed 18-of-28 passes for 306 yards, two TDs and zero INTs through the air, while tucking the ball to run for 52 yards and two TDs on the ground in a prime time victory.
The four-score effort brought back memories of the a phenomenal first year that included a rookie-record 4,051 passing yards, 21 passing TDs, 706 rushing yards and a quarterback-record 14 rushing TDs en route to the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
“He was very decisive, and that’s when you see his ability, his athleticism come through,” said Panthers second-year coach Ron Rivera, who entered the nationally televised game with a 2–8 record and a spot firmly on the proverbial hot seat.
“We put a lot on his plate early in the year, and we’ve taken some of it back. He’s reacting to that very well. The last few weeks he’s been outstanding, and he’s giving us a chance to win.”
After accounting for eight TDs and 11 turnovers while leading the Cats to a 1–6 start to the season, Newton has reversed field to the tune of nine TDs and just two turnovers during Carolina’s recent 2–2 stretch — which has included road wins at Washington and Philadelphia, with home losses to Denver and Tampa Bay.
“Cam is not trying to carry everything,” said receiver Steve Smith. “He’s just relaxing. He seemed very comfortable (against the Eagles) and threw some great passes.”
Never was that comfort level more evident than late in the fourth quarter on Monday night. Heading into Philly, the Panthers had held fourth-quarter leads in five of their previous six losses — a fact that had to be on the mind of every fan, player and coach wearing electric blue and black.
But Newton calmly led a six-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by a two-yard QB-sneak TD and Cam’s signature Superman celebration.
Rather than losing yet another close call — six of Carolina’s eight losses have come by six or fewer points — the Panthers pulled out a victory that could change the trajectory of this year and the near future in Charlotte.
“Winning is huge. It cures all,” said Rivera. “We’ve got to continue now. We have to take this momentum we have on a short week to Kansas City.”
With four of their next five games coming against teams with sub-.500 records, Carolina could turn it around — especially if Newton keeps it up.
“I think my best is yet to come,” said Newton. “I’m still focused on getting better each and every week.”