Mike McCarn/Associated Press
There’s been the injured Newton who struggled early, the former MVP Newton who beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough, and lately, the inaccurate Newton. The pummeled Newton and 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 them, though not literally this time, and what we saw could be used as 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 is 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 past 2017 versions of Newton while watching him gallop for what seemed like many miles in the open field before even being touched.
Wow. @CameronNewton using his WHEELS. 69-yard run! 🏃💨💨💨 #KeepPounding #MIAvsCAR https://t.co/Das6X2eFRj
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″ and 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 joined a short list with only three other names.
Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith
That 69-yard run put Cam Newton over 4,000 career rushing yards. Joins Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to rush for 4,000 yards in their careers.
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 resulting in chunk gains, highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Devin Funchess.
We’re aware of what and 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 while 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|
Over 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 both 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 keeping pace.
The Panthers won two of the four games when Newton was nearly checked out, along with 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 facing 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.