Despite the Carolina Panthers winning 34-10 over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon there would be few people who were thoroughly wowed by the statistical output of Cam Newton. Newton completed 23-of-37 passes for 249 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and picked up one more touchdown via the running game. Nothing especially noteworthy would come out of just staring at a piece of paper with these numbers on them.
When actually watching the game one would see that Newton had an extremely mature performance, overcoming the fact that he was not at his peak physically to lead the Panthers offense. During the first half his two interceptions came as a result of poor throws, and it looked like he couldn’t hit the side of a barn on a deep ball. Bouncing back from these problems with accuracy was crucial in getting the Panthers offense on track as the team’s leading rusher was Jonathan Stewart with only nine carries and 43 yards.
Prior to the 2013 season it would have been inconceivable that Panthers head coach Ron Rivera would have allowed Newton to throw 37 times while the team’s leading rusher only touched the ball nine times. This was not an indictment on Rivera’s coaching acumen, but it paid credence to the fact that Newton had not established enough trust with the ball in his hands to warrant throwing the ball even 20 times.
A peek at Newton’s statistical output and his on field play shows that he has taken a significant step forward in his third professional season, which has directly coincided with the Panthers taking a huge step forward as a team. Through eight games he has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 1801 passing yards with 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
In terms of effect on the team’s style of play this performance has been huge. Only twice has any running back rushed the ball more than 20 times — both times DeAngelo Williams — with neither occurrence coming since Week 3. Coincidentally enough the Panthers have gone 4-1 during this reign of reliance on Newton, buoyed by the fact that their quarterback has now become an on-field general where in past years he seemed to be a bystander at times.
This run has vaulted the Panthers record to 5-3, placing them only a game behind the New Orleans Saints in the race for the NFC South and in an NFC Wild Card Spot. Sure having one of the best defenses in the game has played a large role in this record, but after watching the defense not be enough to haul down a playoff spot the past two seasons it is clear that a missing link has came to the Panthers.
The aforementioned link is Newton, who has transformed from a liability with the ball in his hands to the guy that will have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. This transformation has also lifted the quarterback from the level of mid to lower quarterbacks within the NFL to a guy that now sits firmly in the top ten of all players at his position and is steadily climbing up the ladder.