Falcons vs. Panthers: Cam Newton Continues to Grow in Carolina's Big Win

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 9, 2012

Cam Newton didn’t care that the Atlanta Falcons were 11-1 and his Carolina Panthers were 3-9. He showed as much by going off Sunday, leading his team to a 30-20 victory.

Newton completed 65.7 percent of his passes—his best outing since Week 2—and threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 116 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The best statistic of his day, however, was zero turnovers.

Carolina is now 9-1 in Newton’s career when he doesn’t turn the ball over. But Newton did more against the Falcons than play mistake-free football. He dominated in every aspect of the game.

Newton showed off his arm strength and accuracy on his first touchdown connection of the game, a 25-yard laser beam to tight end Greg Olsen. He repeatedly showed off both throughout the game, especially when his offensive line gave him time to sit in the pocket and go through his progressions.

And when Newton was forced to move past his first receiving option, he showed increased football IQ and made sound decisions on which target to throw towards. He showed poise in the pocket and superb athleticism when forced out of it.

"These last five weeks have been pretty doggone solid," said head coach Ron Rivera in his postgame press conference about Newton's play. "I'm very pleased with his development. I think what [quarterbacks] coach [Mike] Shula and [offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski] Chud have been doing with him has been right on. And he's really accepting it and working."

Over those last five weeks that Rivera spoke of, Newton has thrown for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns, with just two interceptions. In the five games prior, Newton threw for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns with three picks.

Newton’s 293 rushing yards and three touchdowns over the last five weeks far outpaces his 180 yards and two touchdowns from the five games earlier. The biggest improvement has been the zero fumbles. He fumbled four times, losing two, between Weeks 5 and 9.

Rivera, who may indeed be fighting to keep his job, complimented the young players on this team, and said during his press conference that even though it had taken some time, he thought his team had found a formula to get things done.

"This shows you what we're capable of and that's the sad part," Rivera said of his team’s best effort coming in Week 14 of the season.

Carolina can’t salvage the 2012 season, it’s just too far gone. But if the Panthers continue over their last three weeks like they played Sunday, they can have a fantastic jumping-off point for 2013.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.