For the good and bad on Sunday, Cam Newton was the quarterback many have come to expect.
He excited with a long rush, found the end zone a combined three times with his arm and legs and made two errors that were rooted in mechanics and decision-making issues.
In the past, the Carolina Panthers rarely survived a game in which Newton threw more than one interception. But these Panthers (9-3), riding an eight-game winning streak following Sunday’s 27-6 win against Tampa Bay, are different, and so is their franchise quarterback.
Newton’s record improved to 22-22 in his career as a starting quarterback, the first time he’s ever been at least .500 in his two-plus-season NFL career.
He did it without particularly gaudy numbers by his own standards. Newton, who has passed for more yards in his first two seasons than any other quarterback in NFL history, finished Sunday’s game with 263 yards, completing 18-of-29 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
No Newton stat line is complete without his rushing numbers. He ran five times for 68 yards, including a 56-yard scamper that left him 15 yards shy of the end zone and leap on fourth-and-goal from the 1 that resulted in a touchdown.
“I still am in search of a great, perfect win for myself,” Newton said after the game. “Today it was a lot of good things that happened but as I’m looking back at it, it’s a lot of nasty things as well.”
What exactly is a “great, perfect win” for Cam Newton?
“Protecting the football and taking what the defense gives me,” he said. “I did that sometimes, more times than not today, but at times I kind of blew a fuse, and that can’t happen.”
Entering Sunday, the Panthers were 1-9 in games in which Newton threw more than one interception, with the lone win coming in Week 9’s 34-10 win against Atlanta.
His first came in the first quarter, when a high pass intended for Brandon LaFell was tipped by LaFell and intercepted by Keith Tandy near midfield.
“I came over there and told him, run the play again, throw the ball the same way and I’m going to catch it,” LaFell said. “I said that’s my bad. It wasn’t too high. Don’t listen to all that. It was my fault. I should have caught the ball. Throw the ball the same way.”
Newton struggled with his mechanics in that drive, Carolina’s third of the game. He started with a high and wide throw to Ginn near the sideline that was never close, then hit an offensive lineman in the back of the head on a pass to Greg Olsen on second down before throwing the interception.
Newton’s worst play of the game came in the third quarter. The Panthers had put together a five-play, 40-yard drive to the Tampa Bay 22 when a short pass to LaFell was easily intercepted by Lavonte David. The linebacker shrouded LaFell on his route but Newton decided to still attempt a pass off his back foot.
But both of those interceptions resulted in just three points for the Buccaneers as Carolina’s top-five defense held its ground.
“People want to keep pointing at me but the truth of the matter is our defense is playing lights out and giving us opportunities,” Newton said. “When we’re playing with a short field with great special teams play, it’s hard not to be good, so to speak. I’m just doing what’s expected of me – nothing more, nothing less. And when the opportunity presents itself I make plays.”
As he’s done more often in the past two months, Newton deflected a lot of praise. The 36-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn Jr., he said, was the product of the receiver running a good route. Newton’s 56-yard rush, he added, was made possible only because of Steve Smith’s block on Darrelle Revis.
But the quarterback couldn’t help himself on the 1-yard touchdown rush. Instead of following behind a lineman and fighting to get into the end zone, Newton leapt over the line, extended the ball and crossed the plane before the ball was knocked loose.
“I wanted some style points,” Newton said.
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