Newton's 4 TDs lead Panthers to 30-22 win over Eagles

jperson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 27, 2012 

— The Carolina Panthers were ready this time for their second take on prime time, particularly quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton accounted for all four touchdowns – running for two and throwing for two – to lead the Panthers to a 30-22 win over Philadelphia in a "Monday Night Football" matchup between two struggling teams.

The Panthers (3-8) looked much better than they did during a 36-7 loss to the New York Giants in a nationally -televised game in Week 3. Newton threw for three interceptions in that game, which started a five-game losing streak.

But Newton was sharp Monday, throwing for 306 yards on 18-of-28 passing and running for a team-high 52 yards on 14 carries. It was Newton’s sixth 300-yard passing game, but the first in a win.

For the second consecutive week, Newton did not have a turnover.

“It means a lot, on prime-time football, in front of America,” Newton told ESPN after the game. “We’ve just got to get our confidence back, get that swag back and finish strong.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said offensive coaches have taken some of the run responsibilities off Newton to lighten his load. Many of his carries against the Eagles were on scrambles.

“The thing is we put a lot on his plate early in the year and we’ve taken some of it back. He’s reacted to that very well,” Rivera said. “We’re starting to find the balance that we need with him; the last few weeks he’s been outstanding. He’s given us chances to win, and this is the first time we as a team took advantage of it.”

The Eagles (3-8) dropped their seventh consecutive game – their longest losing streak since 1994. Fans booed intermittently throughout the game, including a fourth-quarter sequence when the Eagles’ defense jumped offsides three plays in a row.

The Eagles played without quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy, who were recovering from concussions. Philadelphia then lost Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson in the first half with a bruised sternum, leaving the Eagles without their leading passer, rusher and receiver.

But the Panthers have a history of turning journeyman backs into 100-yard rushers, and Monday was no different. Bryce Brown, the former No. 1 recruit in the nation who had disappointing one-year stints at Tennessee and Kansas State, became the latest backup back to break out against Carolina.

Brown carried 19 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns, breaking Correll Buckhalter’s single-game rushing record among Eagles’ rookies.

“This is the NFL. When one guy goes down, you have another guy step up,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said. “The running back came in and look what he did. They didn’t need LeSean McCoy because he came in and had (129) yards at halftime.”

But the Panthers forced Brown to fumble twice in the third quarter, and stuffed him on a fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter.

Philadelphia’s offsides penalties helped set up Newton’s second rushing touchdown with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left. New kicker Graham Gano, signed last week after Justin Medlock was waived, missed the extra point, making it an 8-point game and keeping the Eagles within a score.

“I was ready to throw up,” Rivera said. “The nice thing is we got a takeaway.”

But unlike a fourth-quarter meltdown against Tampa Bay, this time the Panthers held on. On the kickoff after Gano’s missed point-after, Sherrod Martin forced Brandon Boykin to fumble and the Panthers’ Gary Barnidge recovered.

The Panthers picked up three first downs to run out the last 4:29. Carolina kept Philadelphia’s offense off the field for the final 8:35.

“It’s no secret this was our big game. With the season going the way it’s gone, we definitely were looking for a win up here. And I felt like this was probably our team’s most complete game,” offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.

“Special teams made some big plays. Offensively, we were able to finish the game up. Defense had some turnovers and played well. It felt great to come up here and win.”

Davis said the defense wanted to make rookie quarterback Nick Foles beat the Panthers. Foles played OK, completing 16 of 21 passes for 119 yards, with a long completion of 16 yards.

But Newton was better.

Newton’s 1-yard touchdown dive in the third quarter capped a 95-yard drive that gave the Panthers a 21-15 lead. It was the Panthers’ second-longest drive of the season, behind a 98-yarder in a win at Washington.

Gross said Newton is developing into the leader his teammates want him to be.

“He’s leading the team. He’s on the sidelines talking with the O-line, talking with receivers. He’s doing the things we all wanted him to do. In the huddle, he’s saying the right things,” Gross said. “And I’ll tell you what, the guy’s a tough guy because he takes some shots and he gets up and keeps on swinging.

“If he can play this way and lead like he is, the sky’s the limit for him.”

But the Eagles answered later in the quarter, taking advantage of a 51-yard pass interference penalty on safety Haruki Nakamura. A play after Nakamura’s penalty, Brown scooted around the right end to put Philadelphia up 22-21.

Following Brown’s second fumble, which was caused by defensive end Charles Johnson, the Panthers took over at their 45. The moved inside the Eagles’ 10 before settling for Gano’s first field goal as a Panther – a 23-yarder that gave the Panthers a 24-22 edge with 12:40 remaining.

Newton tossed touchdown passes on the Panthers’ first two possessions, hitting tight end Gary Barnidge on a 24-yard strike and finding wideout Brandon LaFell for a 43-yard score.

It was the first career touchdown for Barnidge, who only had three catches before Monday.

LaFell’s touchdown came against a corner blitz by Brandon Boykin. When no safety rotated over to cover LaFell, he was wide open to haul in Newton’s pass and put the Panthers up 14-3 with 3:36 left in the first quarter.

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