Cam Newton didn’t do everything right Monday night, but he did the most important to perfection.
His Carolina Panthers down 20-17 with six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Newton took the ball on the Panthers 17-yard line and led his team down the field on an 83-yard touchdown drive that took 5:33 off the clock and put Carolina on top 24-20. The Carolina go-ahead score came with just 59 seconds left on the clock, which was almost, but not quite enough time for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to answer.
In a playoff-like atmosphere at Bank of America Stadium, Carolina’s game-winning score was a signature drive for Newton. Just like Carolina’s four-point win was a signature victory.
Newton was 5-of-8 on that final drive with 57 yards passing and two runs for a total of 18 yards. The final pass, a 25-yard touchdown strike to Ted Ginn Jr. on a hitch pattern, was something that the Carolina offense saw they could take advantage of.
"We had a matchup that we liked,” Newton told Lisa Saunders during a postgame interview on the ESPN broadcast. “Usually we get defenders pressed up on Ted (Ginn Jr.), (but) we knew (the Patriots) liked to play off. I just wanted to give Ted an opportunity to make a play, and he did the rest."
Had some bad throws for sure, but 83-yard primetime scoring march? That was a big-boy drive for Cam Newton.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 19, 2013
On the night, Newton went 19-of-28 with 209 yards passing and three touchdown tosses. He added 62 yards on the ground (a game high). Just as impressive: zero fumbles and no interceptions.
On what might have been the biggest stage of Newton’s young career, the third-year passer stepped up in a huge way. And while the move to 7-3 after the Panthers' sixth consecutive victory was the most important number of the night, Newton did raise the bar for young passers in the NFL.
Great day for Cam Newton on #MNF. On his 42nd NFL game, he became the fastest QB to reach 10,000 passing yards in franchise history.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) November 19, 2013
He also showed a maturity and calm that’s recently become the norm for Newton—not an infrequent pleasure. Newton methodically moved the Panthers down the field through the air. He completed 19 passes, but only three were of 20 yards or more. Newton’s bread and butter is now the short, intermediate routes.
Newton also made play after play with his legs. Gone are the days where frequent run plays are called specifically for Newton. He has a trio of capable running backs for that. Now, Newton makes magic happen when forced from the pocket. Like this third-quarter scramble where Newton physically covered more than 70 yards, making four would-be tacklers miss, just to gain 14 yards and the first down.
Cam Newton has been the driving force in his team's turnaround.
He’s thrown for 1,264 yards and run for 205 more since the winning streak started. He’s also accumulated 13 total touchdowns (10 passing, three rushing) against just three interceptions. His 67.5 percent completion rate is almost eight points higher than his career average.
Newton isn’t doing (or trying to do) everything on his own—a testament to his growth. But his numbers just keep getting better and, now, the team-based accomplishments are on the rise.
Last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers was big. But, in ways, it was just a first step after Carolina had picked on four lesser-quality foes to start its winning ways. Now that Carolina has back-to-back wins over quality and (likely) playoff-bound teams, these big-time wins seem more like a sign of things to come rather than outliers.
And who could argue that the manner in which Newton led his team down the field late in the fourth quarter on Monday isn’t a massive character builder? Great quarterbacks win football games in the fourth quarter, and now Newton has tasted that reality.
Who will win the NFC South?
He should continue to eat more as the one of the league’s big dogs.
Carolina has four likely wins coming against the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons remaining on its schedule. The two question-mark games are both against the New Orleans Saints (8-2), in Weeks 14 and 16. Those two games should determine who wins the NFC South.
Now that Newton has his signature win—a victory where he put these Panthers on his back and led them to victory over a legendary player and coach on prime-time, national television—it’s entirely plausible to expect Carolina to win at least one, possibly both games against New Orleans.
The Panthers now have the NFL street cred to back that assumption up.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.