All the talk of Cam Newton’s status as a top-flight NFL quarterback can cease. All that was left for him to quiet critics was to lead his team into the playoffs. Sunday, he did just that, and in dramatic, heroic fashion, too.
Needing a touchdown to defeat the New Orleans Saints, the Panthers got the ball at their 35 yard line with just 55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, with no timeouts. Throw in that Newton had a bad ankle and Carolina’s top receiver, Steve Smith, was out with a knee injury.
Still, Newton was unfazed. He told his teammates in the huddle before the drive: “Let’s get it done.”
With calm and talent, Newton did just that. He had passed for just 116 yards to the point, but completed a 37-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. Then he fired to Greg Olsen for 14 yards. Newton spiked the ball to stop the clock. Then he threw the game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to seldom-used Dominik Hixon, who made a diving catch that produced a 16-10 win and the Panthers’ first playoff berth since 2008.
The building rocked.
“We just kept fighting, kept pounding, kept getting after it,” Newton said. “We really knew we were one drive away. We were one play away.”
That play will be etched in minds of Panther fans for a long time, for its significance and how close it was to not being a catch. Newton fired a laser where only Hixon could get to it. He extended himself, got his hands under the ball and maintained possession as he rolled over. The play was reviewed. . . and confirmed.
”I was 99 percent sure it was a catch,” Hixon said with a grin.
Ultimately, the win was about Newton.
”Cam was very resilient,” coach Ron Rivera said. ”He struggled all day and he knows that. But he came through when we needed him.”