We wished that last play never happened. Because part of the collateral damage of the missed call/correct call/whatever you decide is that we're not talking enough about the game Cam Newton played on a huge stage.
It was a Super Bowl type of a game. It felt important. It played out with drama and force. The teams jawed at each other. We'd be lucky to get this caliber of game and setting in New Jersey this February.
And part of the reason the Carolina Panthers' victory over the New England Patriots was so great was that Cam Newton showed a side of himself that the country might not have noticed prior to Monday night.
He can be great. MVP-caliber great. Yes, he's fully in the discussion now.
However cute you want to get with the award discussion this season, we know this much: It's going to a quarterback. With apologies to Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles or any other non-QB you want to offer, it's just not happening. There has been no transcendent J.J. Watt-like or Adrian Peterson-esque season out of a single player in 2013, and if it hasn't happened yet at another position, it's not happening at all. Fair or not, the non-quarterbacks have to go above and beyond to achieve MVP mention.
But in the case of Newton, he's hitting the point where he can steal the award from Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He really can. Stacking statistics won't win Newton the hardware, so we must go beyond.
For instance, from Monday's box score, we see this:
3-7-CAR 37 (7:52) (Shotgun) C.Newton scrambles left end to NE 49 for 14 yards (D.Hightower). NE-K.Arrington was injured during the play.
But our eyes tell is that 14 yards never looked so good, nor felt so MVP-ish:
That play from Newton came at a time when the Patriots had rallied with a dominating, eight-play, 80-yard drive — the kind two-time MVP Tom Brady has minted a career on. But Newton answered there, just as he did later, one-upping Brady and the Patriots. New England went down for a field goal to make it 20-17, Patriots, as Brady misfired on 3rd-and-1 deep in the Panthers' red zone. Newton took the ball with 6:26 left, drained the clock down with a surgical, 13-play, 83-yard drive, and hit the game-winning TD throw to Ted Ginn, making the proper read when his primary option (Brandon LaFell) was covered.
That's heady, back-breaking stuff. No controversy there. If there's something more demoralizing to a defense than a quarterback who can scramble around and evade the rush, turning a sack into a first down, I'd like to hear your suggestions. And likewise, it's the kind of spine-tingler that fans and media members can rally around, burned into their collective minds when voting time comes.
The stage is set for Newton to win this thing. If the Kansas City Chiefs can't beat the Denver Broncos in two weeks, we might see Manning — addled by a tender ankle — take a seat for most of what could be a meaningless Week 17 game at Oakland. Meanwhile, Newton and the Panthers are in perfect stalking mode of the New Orleans Saints, with two suddenly thrilling matchups left head to head between them, including in Carolina in Week 16 — a game that could be flexed to primetime over the scheduled game between the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens (how about that?).
Cam then would play in Atlanta, his hometown, against the down-and-out Falcons for a chance to slay his demons there (0-2 record at the Georgia Dome coming in) and steal the league's MVP award.
We're talking about this season, yes, but when you are talking MVP, people must look at a player and convinced they are great. Not great today but great for the foreseeable future, and as great as Newton always thought he was. Newton wasn't a legit candidate until a few weeks ago mainly because (a) the Panthers largely had stunk for most of his tenure and (b) many were not convinced he was a terribly likeable guy. That stuff matters, fair or not. But with every clutch performance, he's chipping away at the preconceived notions and racking up statistics we've never seen before. Such as:
Cam Newton is the 1st player in NFL history with 10,000 pass yds and 1,000 rush yds in first 3 seasons. #Superman
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 19, 2013
Those things matter, even if that's a three-year achievement, not just a 2013 thing. We now have to accept the fact that he has skills that few, if any, possess in this league. That allows him to enter the great pantheon. Now he just has to keep winning. We'll look past some of the numbers if they don't quite stack up to those of Manning or Brees if Newton can convince people that he's the X-factor. One or two more performances like Monday night, and it won't be stunning.
It's all laid out for Newton. Superman can swoop in and be the hero in the end.
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