There was the injured Newton who struggled early, the 2015 MVP Newton who beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough and, lately, the inaccurate Newton. The pummeled Newton and the frustrated Newton are two other versions out of his control as offensive linemen miss blocks and wide receivers drop routine catches.
But the Newton we saw Monday night during the Panthers' 45-21 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins was different. He did what a quarterback of his caliber should do against an inferior opponent. Which is dunk on it, though not literally this time, and the performance could be a launching point during a push to the playoffs.
Or at minimum, the thrashing Newton led needs to be a springboard toward something that resembles consistency, which has been elusive for the three-time Pro Bowler in 2017.
You couldn't tell that Monday, though, as he threw four touchdown passes and finished with 254 passing yards. That yardage was his highest single-game total since Week 5, and it came in a game with little second-half passing and enough garbage time to put a few landfills at capacity.
It was also easy to forget about all the 2017 versions of Newton while watching him gallop for what seemed like many miles in the open field before he was even touched.
Newton's 69-yard run set up one of three touchdowns the Panthers scored in the third quarter.
He was decisive, imposing and frighteningly fast on that play, all characteristics we've come to expect from the 6'5", 245-pound quarterback who combines an arm catapult with a gear few others have as a runner.
Historically few too, as ProFootballTalk's Michael David Smith noted. By the end of that long run Newton had joined a short list with only three others:
He also reached 20.09 MPH, the fastest run speed for any quarterback in 2017, according to NFL.com's Matt Harmon.
We don't need to be told Newton is a rare talent with physical abilities that alternate between being unfair and scary. We saw it on that run, and his multiple deep throws Monday that resulted in chunk gains, highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Devin Funchess.
We're aware of who Newton is 103 games into his career. But memories can be short in a league rooted in the now, with weekly production often overwhelming the larger picture as seasons zip by at warp speed.
For Newton then, Monday was both a statement and possibly also a course correction. He had spent plenty of time wandering through the darkness prior to Week 10 and was in a midseason funk. It was fair to wonder if he'd ever emerge from this four-game pit of despair:
|Newton's last four games prior to Week 10|
|Game||Passing yards||Yards/attempt||Comp %||TD||INT||Rating|
Over those four games—also known as a quarter of the season—Newton didn't come close to averaging seven yards per pass attempt, and he didn't record a rating of 75.0, which are benchmarks for merely passable play.
Of course, a creaky offensive line that's subjected him to a thumping didn't help and neither have receivers who evidently bathe their hands in butter before games. Newton has been sacked four-plus times in three games already, and Panthers pass-catchers finished with four drops Monday.
But a funny thing happened to the Panthers even with those self-inflicted wounds and even with Newton struggling: They kept winning, or at worst kept pace.
The Panthers won two of the four games when Newton was nearly checked out along with the rest of the passing offense. And one of those losses was by just five points to the Philadelphia Eagles, the league's best team.
Now in one night, Newton threw four touchdown passes after firing only two in four games. Even more impressively, he also ran 95 yards, posting his second straight game with 80-plus yards on the ground.
He has the talent to breathe offensive life into a 7-3 team that's been winning with defense and is starting to separate itself in the NFC playoff race. But the real source of encouragement for the Panthers from Monday may have been what happened in front of Newton. He was able to accumulate those yards and tear apart the Dolphins secondary while getting better protection. Newton finished with 35 pass attempts, and 25 came in a clean pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.
We'll get reacquainted with the best version of Newton if that blocking continues. Playoff Newton will surely make an appearance in January too, and having a game against that guy in the postseason is a good way to not sleep for a week.
The Panthers need to arrive at the point where Newton gives defensive coordinators insomnia again. Monday might have been the first step.