Monday night wasn't a breakout game for Cam Newton. The Panthers quarterback has been tremendous ever since he stepped into the NFL.
But one thing Newton didn't have in two-and-a-half seasons was the highlight of leading his team down the field on a game-winning drive in the final minutes.
Newton has that now.
The Panthers, an astonishing 2-14 in games decided by seven or fewer points in Newton's first two seasons, methodically drove downfield and Newton threw a go-ahead 25-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn with 1:01 remaining. The Panthers held on for a thrilling 24-20 win.
Newton was a star before Monday night, but he had toiled on a bad team and had to deal with nonsense like questions about his sideline demeanor and the idiotic notion of "quarterback wins." But the perception of Newton is likely to change a lot after his performance against the Patriots, who are now 7-3.
Newton had a tremendous game, which isn't a surprise. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, having surpassed 10,000 passing yards in his first 41 games. He also has 82 total touchdowns in the NFL. He has been good for a while, but really displayed all of his skills on Monday night.
A 14-yard scramble was a highlight. ESPN said he covered 75 yards and made six defenders miss on the play as he ran around buying time before he broke free. He completed 19-of-28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 62 yards.
Despite Newton's heroics, the Patriots took a 20-17 lead on a field goal with 6:32 remaining. If there was some skepticism of Newton's ability to lead the Panthers to a score at that point, it was because he hadn't done it before. He was bound to have that great game-winning drive eventually, and what better stage than against Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday night?
Newton converted two third downs on the final drive by running the ball. He didn't have any long throws before Ginn took the curl route and beat the Patriots' secondary to the end zone, but Newton made every play he had to.
It wasn't just Newton that got a measure of respect on Monday night. The Panthers improved to 7-3 with the win, and have beaten quality opponents San Francisco and New England in back-to-back weeks. They play tremendous defense, and held the Patriots out of the end zone in the final seconds to secure the win.
Carolina got a bit fortunate at the end when linebacker Luke Kuechly appeared to interfere Rob Gronkowski in the end zone and a penalty flag was thrown, but the officials picked it up and said there was no foul. Brady and Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett argued with the officials all the way into the tunnel about the non-call.
Despite the controversy at the end, the Panthers were thrilled to get a heck of a victory. With Newton continuing to improve and the best defense in the NFL, there should be many more wins for the Panthers coming this season.
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