Newton completed 18 of 23 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown, all against a Redskins defense that entered the game ranked 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game.
Newton also showed off his running ability, adding 10 carries for 59 yards and his seventh rushing touchdown this season, already a NFL record for rookie quarterbacks.
Nothing Redskins’ defensive coordinator Jim Haslett tried seemed to slow Newton down, and the turnovers that had plagued Newton in previous weeks were nowhere to be found on Sunday. Newton stood tall in the pocket against blitzes, but was not afraid to tuck and run when the Redskins dropped back in coverage.
It does help to have the superhuman Steve Smith running routes, of course. Smith had seven catches for 143 yards, and had little difficulty getting open against either of Washington’s cornerbacks, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, who alternated in coverage throughout the game.
Jeremy Shockey added four catches for 39 yards, and Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams helped establish a balanced running game, combining for 103 yards on 24 carries.
Newton displayed impressive accuracy and ball security, two areas where he has shown inconsistency in his first six games. He entered the game with nine interceptions, but played conservatively and intelligently through all four quarters.
While the Washington defense struggled to contain Newton, coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense experienced its own share of frustrations. Replacement quarterback John Beck did not play poorly in his first start, but did nothing to earn the confidence of Redskins fans.
Running back Tim Hightower had eight first-quarter carries for 67 yards, but he went down in the third quarter with an ACL injury that has ended his season.
It should be noted that the Redskins were also missing free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe due to a knee injury, a big blow to the pass defense. Backup Reed Doughty is a respectable player that can make plays near the line of scrimmage, but his relative lack of speed can be exploited in both man and zone coverage.
The story of the game was Newton and the Panthers’ offense, however. Head coach Ron Rivera has placed full control of the offense in Netwon’s hands, and shows his confidence in the rookie by calling a full range of plays, no Tim Tebow-like shortened playbook for Newton.
Rivera’s trust paid off against Washington, and Newton made some very difficult throws look easy. The most impressive of these was a perfect 36-yard pass lofted down the sideline to Smith that put the Panthers on the Redskins’ goal line with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. The ensuing touchdown sealed the victory for Carolina.
Newton still has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8) on the season, but showed serious signs of improvement in Week 7. It was unclear how Newton would handle the pressure of starting as a rookie, but he has at least shown that he is capable of greatness. If he can maintain this high level of play, Carolina could prove dangerous as the season continues.