Cam Newton, once an enigmatic figure, used the platform of Monday Night Football to display exactly how much he has grown as a quarterback. Enigma no more. More like dynamic.
Under the brightest NFL lights, the Carolina Panthers’ leader went head-to-head against future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady and won, 24-20, after he engineered a late-game, game winning-drive that was preserved on the final play of the game.
Down by three points late in the fourth quarter, Newton was masterful in the game’s most heated moments. He led an 83-yard drive over 13 plays, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left,
“Cam did the things he needed to do to put us in position to win the football game,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “It has a lot to do with his maturity that we have talked about.”
Newton’s growth showed in how he handled the win.
“Realistically, we’re just 7-3,” Newton, who was 19 for 28 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, said. “We’re not No. 1, and that’s the ultimate goal. . . We can’t just be satisfied with the performance. It’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back.”
Brady was 29 of 40 for 296 yards and one touchdown, but left the field screaming at officials after a flag was thrown in the end zone on his last-second pass to Rob Gronkowski. The pass was intercepted by safety Robert Lester, but officials threw a flag after it appeared linebacker Luke Kuechly had interfered Gronkowski by grabbing him with both hands. The officials quickly gathered together and waved off the flag.
“There was no explanation given to me. Officials ran off the field. I didn’t see anything,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It was the last play of the game. There was a flag thrown and then the game was over.”
An angry Brady sprinted over to two officials to argue the call as they walked off the field.
“He was kind of weaving in and out of there. I didn’t really want to throw it over his head and out of bounds, so I was a little indecisive,” Brady said. “It wasn’t a great throw. No excuses. Should have been a better throw.”
Newton made strong throws all night. He gave Carolina a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on an 81-yard touchdown drive that took more than 8 minutes off the clock and featured a scramble in which the third-year quarterback avoided four tacklers and turned a potential 20-yard sack into a 14-yard gain and a first down.
Newton completed all seven passes on the drive for 77 yards finding Greg Olson to the right pylon with 2:10 left for his second touchdown pass, putting the Panthers back in front. After Brady put New England back on top, Newton responded admirably, and in doing so he just might have made the leap into another echelon.