CHARLOTTE, NC (The Charlotte Observer) - Each week the Carolina Panthers play in 2018, the Observer will choose a potential gamechanger — the player most likely to make a huge impact on the game. This week’s choice:
Quarterback Cam Newton
The soundbite: Go on, play back the soundbite. You know you want to.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m playing the best football of my career,” Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said Wednesday. “Straight up. I just feel in control. There’s no question marks. My assuredness of every single play, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do.”
While Newton’s critics will always find reason to dig at the former MVP, there’s not much they can do in the way of arguing his numbers.
Numbers that, to be frank, validate his claim.
The statistics: The highlights: Newton has thrown 22 touchdowns against just seven interceptions so far this season, and he’s done so by completing a career-high 69.6 percent of his passes. And in recent weeks, he’s been even more impressive. Newton has thrown for multiple touchdowns in 10 straight games now, and he’s also recorded a passer rating over 100 each of the team’s past six games.
At this rate, Newton is on pace to set Panthers franchise records in completion percentage, passing touchdowns, passer rating, and fewest interceptions.
So yeah, “best football of my career” is probably the shortest way to express all that.
More than just numbers: But more than just his play is the confidence with which Newton is playing. Even as the Panthers have hobbled through a three-game losing streak, Newton’s spirit hasn’t wavered, something even his coaches have taken notice of.
“I think when you’re a quarterback and you say something like that,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Thursday, “you feel like you’re seeing things, you have a good handle on what’s happening, you trust the guys you’re playing with, and you’re playing with confidence.”
Chance for repeat success: Newton’s play has certainly been bolstered by Turner’s more efficient offense this season, as well as being surrounded by weapons such as Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, but there’s no denying that Newton himself is playing with more poise and understanding than he has in years.
Now is the time that play starts translating into victories.
For as good as Newton has been recently, his most recent game without a turnover came four weeks ago against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — also Carolina’s most recent victory. But now with a second matchup against the Bucs, Newton has an opportunity to again reap the rewards of his career-best stretch.
What Newton said: “I was rewarded with wins (when I played well in the past), and just the affirmation of knowing, boom, we’re winning,” Newton said. “Now it’s tougher that we’re not winning, but at the same time, it’s my job as a quarterback to know. Like the selfish me would’ve been like, ‘Oh I’m good, we ain’t losing because of me,’ but that’s not where I am right now in my career.”
Reasons for optimism: Aside from the familiarity of having played Tampa so recently, there are two other factors working in Newton’s favor. The first is the team’s offensive momentum. Even in a loss to Seattle last week, the Panthers accrued a season-high 476 total yards. Doing so without receiver Devin Funchess, who missed the game with a back injury, proves Newton’s efficiency and success don’t hinge on any one player.
Second is the actual defensive play of the Bucs. That, to be as blunt as Newton, isn’t exactly the NFL’s best.
Tampa currently allows the sixth-most passing yards per game (274.3), as well as the second-most points per game (30.7). Add on that the Bucs are without several starters and key contributors in the secondary because of injuries, puts Newton in position for success ... again.
The first time these teams played this season, Newton finished an efficient 19-for-25 for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
What coach Ron Rivera said: “He’s just been very productive but very consistent in his play, and that’s probably been the biggest thing right now. When the quarterback plays that consistent, you should win more games.”