NFC South: Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Debating who is better between Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers really isn’t a debate.

Statistically, Wilson wins almost every category.

Perhaps the debate should be on whether Wilson would have gotten a chance to develop into a Super Bowl winning quarterback had the Panthers drafted him in 2012 instead of Seattle.

Actually, that wouldn’t be much of a debate, either. The Panthers were and are committed to Newton.

But Carolina did look at the quarterback it will face on Sunday as a potential backup for Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft. Panthers management believed Wilson’s running ability made him a good candidate to run a similar offense to Newton, should Newton get hurt.

The Panthers just weren’t willing to use a third-round pick on the 5-foot-11 dynamo, as Seattle did. They only were looking at him as a late-round pick if he fell that far.

So Wilson likely would have wasted away on the bench, just as he would have at New Orleans, Green Bay and San Diego, three other teams that showed interest before the draft.

“This league is like that, being in the right place at the right time," said Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson. “It’s not necessarily if you have the ability or don’t have the ability. I’ve got buddies that played just a couple of years in this league, but easily could have played 10.

“The situation by him going there worked perfect."

It worked out well for both teams. Newton has been a two-time Pro Bowl selection, leading Carolina to a 12-4 record last season. Wilson is a two-time Pro Bowl pick with a Super Bowl ring.

“I remember the Carolina Panthers talking to me and the GM and the coaching staff and all that in terms of trying to bring me in for the Panthers," Wilson recalled. “Obviously, I wanted to play. I believed that my height didn’t define my skill set.

“It has worked out well for me. Just to be in the NFL is an amazing thing; you don’t take that for granted."

Wilson has a 27-11 record as a starter, including a victory over Denver in the Super Bowl. Newton has a 27-26-1 record and is 0-1 in the playoffs.

Wilson has completed 64 percent of his career passes for 62 touchdowns. Newton is at 59.9 percent for 72 touchdowns in 16 more starts.

Newton’s biggest edge over Wilson is in rushing touchdowns. He has 29 to Wilson’s eight. The Panthers use Newton more on goal-line runs because of his size.

But in terms of rushing average, Wilson is at 5.9 yards per attempt to Newton’s 5.5.

Many will say they are the same player – minus six inches in height – because they both run. But Wilson picks up more of his rush yards off scrambling. Newton has more plays designed for him to run out of the read option.

“Some of the things that he does I don’t necessarily try to do, just because of the size difference he has over me," Wilson said.

Newton says Wilson is fun to watch, but reiterates they’re two different players. Wilson has a lot of admiration for Newton.

That the two never competed for a spot is a plus.

“A lot of times you get picked wherever somebody takes you, and for me, I was prepared to go wherever," Wilson said. “But I just believed that where I was selected I was going to make 31 other teams regret it, and that was my mindset.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton doesn't plan to be an "idiot" when it comes to attacking Seattle's Richard Sherman on Sunday.

Newton also doesn't plan to avoid arguably the best cover cornerback in the NFL.

"If the play is called for me to read it to Richard's side, by all means I'm going to do it," Newton said Wednesday. "And I'm going to give each and every receiver an opportunity to make plays.

"I'm not going to force it. I'm not going to be an idiot. I'm going to do a great job of protecting the football and be aggressively patient in taking what the defense gives me."

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)Richard Sherman will have to work on Sunday, although Cam Newton says he won't force passes Sherman's way.
Although ESPN Stats & Information doesn't track how many times individual corners have been targeted, it does have numbers showing that quarterbacks have successfully thrown to the right side of Seattle's formation -- where Sherman plays -- more this season.

Seattle's opponents already have as many touchdowns (6) throwing to that side as they did in 2014. There has been only one interception to that side, compared to 12 last year.

Completion percentage is up, too -- 69.1 percent in 2014 compared to 55.1 percent last year. Passer ratings to that side have increased from 49.7 percent to 88.9.

The biggest exception was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had only 6 passing yards to the right side in a 36-16 loss to Seattle in Week 1.

In Week 2, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw to Sherman's side because he believed wide receiver Keenan Allen could win some of those one-on-one battles. Allen had five catches for 55 yards in San Diego's 30-21 victory.

In Week 6, the Dallas Cowboys threw to Dez Bryant on that side in their 30-23 victory, although Sherman moved around more in that game. Bryant was targeted 10 times. He caught four passes for 63 yards.

In all likelihood, Sherman will draw rookie Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin a lot on Sunday. At 6-foot-3, Sherman will be the biggest defensive back the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin has matched up against this season.

Benjamin doesn't appear concerned.

"You can tell he loves the game," said Benjamin, whose 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns lead all Carolina wide receivers. "He brings the passion to it. He has fun. He talks a lot of smack out there, but this is football.

"I'm just going to come out there and match his intensity, play fast and be sound in all my assignments."

While the "smack" might bother some receivers, Benjamin welcomes it.

"I might come off a little harder and block him a little harder, but that's on him -- how much he talks," he said.

Talking is a big part of Sherman's game. He said on live TV after last season's NFC Championship Game that he's "the best corner in the game."

Carolina cornerback Josh Norman says you need that kind of confidence to play the position.

"As an analyst looking in, you probably think, 'OK, that guy. He's always talking. He's cocky. He has a big mouth,'" Norman said. "But at the same time, when you're looking at 4.3 [speed] guys in front of your face running down the field, what are you going to do?

"I hope you're going to be cocky. I hope you have some kind of moxie about yourself. If you don't, you're just going to get torched."

But avoiding Sherman isn't part of Carolina's game plan. Newton understands that to beat the Seahawks, you have to attack not only him, but the entire secondary.

"They have a very dominant secondary, physical secondary that does not hesitate to come downhill and play with reckless abandon and do bodily harm to the opposing team," Newton said. "As a fan of the game, you kind of like watching that from your TV.

"But when you're out there playing the game, you've got to make sure your chin strap is tightened up a little tighter and [you] understand executing the game plan is going to be at a premium this week more than any other week."
The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers are reeling as they enter Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Bank of America Stadium.

The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks have lost two straight games to fall to 3-3, two games behind Arizona in the NFC West. The defending NFC South champion Panthers have gone 1-2-1 over their past four games and fallen to 3-3-1. They still lead the division because the other three teams have defenses that are just as porous as Carolina's.

Seattle and Carolina are meeting for the third straight year in Charlotte, with the Seahawks winning the previous two by scores of 16-12 and 12-7.

ESPN Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton are here to break this one down for you:

Newton: Terry, the folks in Seattle have to be a bit shocked the Seahawks are .500 and two games out in the division. Is there a sense of concern at this point?

Blount: Nobody is jumping off the Space Needle, but you'd better believe the fans are concerned and a bit bewildered. There is time for the Seahawks to recover, but can they? The team hasn't played well at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. They can't get much of a pass rush, and the offensive line has been whistled for 14 penalties in the past three games. Injuries to key starters have hurt them: tight end Zach Miller, center Max Unger, cornerback Byron Maxwell and especially middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who was playing the best football of his career until suffering a nasty turf toe injury two weeks ago.

You're probably getting this question a lot, but what in heaven's name is going on with the Carolina defense? The Panthers have gone from No. 2 in the NFL last season in points allowed (15.1) to a team that has given up at least 37 points in four games this season. What has been the biggest factor in the dramatic change?

Newton: Not sure the editors will give me the space to fully explain this one. You can start with the loss of defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. It's hard to replace everything he did. But it goes much deeper than that. You can also look to the secondary. There are three new starters: strong safety Roman Harper, free safety Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Antoine Cason. They're making every quarterback look like Peyton Manning the way receivers are running free. The lack of a pass rush has hurt. Teams are hitting Carolina with a lot of quick passes to negate the four-man rush, just as I suspect is happening in Seattle. But, as linebacker Thomas Davis said earlier in the week, the Carolina defense as a whole simply isn't playing smart and swarming to the ball as it did last season.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is playing at high level. Where has he shown the most improvement and how will his threat as a runner affect an undisciplined Carolina defense?

Blount: Dave, it's scary to think where the team would be without Wilson. He single-handedly won the Redskins game on Oct. 6, becoming the first quarterback in "Monday Night Football" history to pass for more than 200 yards and run for more than 100. His brilliant 80-yard drive in overtime defeated Denver last month, a game the defense tried to give away at the end of regulation. He's doing almost everything at a higher level now in his third NFL season, but most importantly, he understands where he needs to go with the football more quickly and when to tuck and run. That has been essential considering Wilson had been under duress more than any other QB. Believe it or not, he rarely looks to run. He has to run to avoid pressure. The key for any defense is trying to cut off the perimeter and keep him in the pocket -- easier said than done.

Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin looks as if he's everything the Panthers hoped he would be as a first-round pick. But do they miss Steve Smith, and do you think Benjamin can be as good as, or better than, Buffalo rookie receiver Sammy Watkins?

Newton: Benjamin hasn't disappointed. He's 13th in the NFL in receiving yards with 477, and his five touchdowns are one more than Smith has in Baltimore. I'm not sure Benjamin would have developed as quickly if Smith were in Carolina. As I've said before, overall the team is better at wide receiver than it was a year ago.

As for where Benjamin stacks up against Watkins, I'd say they're pretty much the same player except Watkins has more explosive speed. But Benjamin runs routes much better than anyone gave him credit for coming out of college. He's a player even Seattle's talented secondary will have to pay extra attention to. And you do that at the expense of leaving open Greg Olsen, who leads all tight ends with 493 receiving yards.

I found the comments by Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin on the Percy Harvin trade interesting. Has that been a distraction, and how will that affect the Seattle offense?

Blount: Baldwin admitted after the St. Louis loss this past weekend that the shock of the Harvin trade, which happened less than 48 hours earlier, had an impact on the way the Seahawks started the game in getting behind 21-3. However, I firmly believe the impact going forward will be a positive one. Harvin's anger issues -- fights with teammates and taking himself out of two games -- were more than anyone could tolerate any longer.

It also was a problem on the field because Seattle revamped its entire offense to revolve around Harvin. The Seahawks got away from what they do best: run the football to set up open receivers downfield. They looked like last year's offense in the second half against the Rams, scoring on three consecutive drives of 80 yards or longer. Wilson set another NFL record, becoming the first player in league history to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in a game. Baldwin had his best game of the season with seven catches for 123 yards and a score. Trading Harvin was addition by subtraction in so many ways.

I'm shocked to see that Cam Newton is Carolina's leading rusher with 190 yards. What has happened to the Panthers' running game?

Newton: You wouldn't be shocked if you looked at all the injuries, a new line and opponents putting eight in the box to stop the run. Panthers all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams has missed the past three games with an ankle injury and has played less than six quarters this season. Jonathan Stewart has missed three starts. Mike Tolbert is on injured reserve. If you've heard the names Darrin Reaves, Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya, you're either related to them or desperate in a fantasy league.

Then there's the line, which took another blow last week when starting right guard Trai Turner suffered a knee and ankle sprain that will keep him out this week. At one point Sunday, undrafted rookie David Foucault, who should be on the practice squad developing, was playing left tackle. I could go on, but I won't.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – That backup quarterback Derek Anderson has appeared in three of the last five games for the Carolina Panthers normally would be a good sign.

Not this year.

Anderson played in eight games the past three seasons at Carolina. Six of his appearances were in mop-up roles at the end of blowout victories. Two were in mop-up roles at the end of blowout losses.

The Panthers (3-3-1) haven’t had any blowout wins this season.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Tom LynnCam Newton doesn't like to come off the field, but he's being protected in blowout games by coach Ron Rivera.
So when Anderson has replaced Cam Newton, as he did Sunday in the fourth quarter of a 38-17 loss at Green Bay, it was for all the wrong reasons as far as the starter is concerned.

“It’s frustrating," Newton said on Wednesday. “It’s not frustrating coming out the game. It’s more frustrating that the product that you put out there didn’t keep your team in the game."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera understands quarterbacks like to finish what they start regardless of the situation. Had this been 2011, when the Panthers made Newton the first pick of the draft, Rivera would have left his franchise quarterback on the field.

“Early on in Cam’s career I would have left him in because he needed the development," Rivera said. “I don’t think he needs the development. But in light of the circumstances, we can’t expose him."

The circumstances are Newton is coming off ankle surgery in March and fractured ribs in August. The circumstances are Carolina has been without its top three running backs much of this season due to injuries and could be without two starters on the offensive line on Sunday against Seattle.

“He understands," Rivera said of Newton. “He gets it. He knows that there’s a certain point in a game like that, that the best thing is to take a step back, evaluate and protect him. I have to do that. It’s a long season.

“With everything that we’ve gone through, the last thing I would like to do is keep a guy in and have him get hurt. Honestly, I don’t really want to do it under those circumstances. I want to do it on the other circumstances when we’re winning."

If Newton comes out of Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, he hopes it because the Panthers have a big lead. He understands to do that, the offense will have to start faster than it did against Green Bay and several other opponents.

While there’s been a lot of piling on the defense for giving up 21 first-quarter points against the Packers, it should be noted that the offense also wasn’t good.

Carolina gained only 5 yards in the first quarter, going three-and-out on its first two drives and picking up its only first down in the quarter on a penalty.

The Panthers finished the first half with just 113 yards and three points. Newton had a passer rating of 66.1, while Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a rating of 153.4.

“My main focus on everything that is going into this week is starting fast and executing the whole game," Newton said.

If he doesn’t, Anderson will have had as many relief appearances by the halfway point of this season as he had all of last season.

“Sunday vs. Green Bay was unacceptable," Newton said. “And it’s my job to make sure that ship is driving straight."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Colin Cole took a moment on Sunday to reflect on his 2010 season with the Seattle Seahawks.

It had nothing to do with the defending Super Bowl champions coming to Charlotte this week.

It had everything to do with perspective.

The 2010 Seahawks went 7-9 during the regular season, which was good enough to win the NFC West in a tiebreaker over the St. Louis Rams. They went on to beat an 11-5 New Orleans team 41-36 in the first round of the playoffs.

Cole brought that season up to remind that as bad as the Panthers (3-3-1) looked in a 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, they remain in first place in the NFC South.

On a day when nothing went right for Carolina, the New Orleans Saints blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 24-23 loss at Detroit and Atlanta was pounded 29-7 by the Baltimore Ravens.

That left the Saints at 2-4 and the Falcons at 2-5.

The only NFC South team that didn't lose was 1-5 Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers were on a bye.

"It's very positive that every team lost," Cole said.

That's about the only positive thing that came out of Carolina's loss, leaving the Panthers 1-2-1 in their last four games. The defense was horrible and the offense wasn't much better.

"Somehow we're still in first place, which is great, but by no means a reflection of how well we're playing at times," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It really is a week-by-week league."

And this week, the Panthers face a 3-3 Seattle team that has lost two straight and three of its last five games to fall two games out of first place in the West.

"You've got to put all your efforts into each game and try to get one win at a time," Olsen said. "You don't worry about stretches. You don't worry about who you have in a couple of weeks. You worry about the immediate.

"We've got a long time before we have to worry about the division, but it's nice that during some of these bad weeks we caught some breaks with the other teams struggling, too."

The Panthers may be playing bad defense, giving up 37 or more points in four of their last five games, but the rest of the division also is porous defensively.

It's so bad that former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith called the NFC South a "finesse division" after the Ravens made the cumulative score 115-34 against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta this season.

Smith wasn't saying that a year ago, when Carolina had the league's second-ranked defense en route to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title. But that's another story.

The story of this season's division race looks much like the one Seattle had in 2010. The way things stand, seven wins might be enough to win it.

And as quarterback Cam Newton reminded, it's too early to call the situation critical as bad as the loss looked and with injuries continuing to mount -- now on the offensive line with left tackle Byron Bell (elbow) and right guard Trai Turner (ankle sprain) in question.

"What we going to do? Quit?" Newton said. "Absolutely not. We've got to keep going, keep fighting. We'll find a way to get out of this."

Because the rest of the NFC South keeps losing, the Panthers have time to do that.

"Hey, we'll take it how we can get it," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "But we want to start winning some football games.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: This may have been one of those season-on-the-brink moments for the Panthers (3-3-1). Between penalties, mental errors and bad decisions, they were terrible offensively and defensively. Their only saving grace at the moment is that the rest of the NFC South is a mess. This one got away from Carolina before the cheese curds got cold. The Panthers were outgained 172-5 and outscored 21-0 in a disaster of a first quarter. They gave up 37 or more points for the fourth time in the last five games. They committed eight penalties for 55 yards in the first half. It was such a foregone conclusion early that Cam Newton never was a factor. There was nothing positive to take from this one.

Stock watch: The entire defense, big arrow down. Just when you thought this group couldn’t play any worse, it did. The first quarter was one of the worst in team history. The Panthers gave up 172 yards and three touchdowns to trail 21-0 just 13 minutes into the game. They also had four penalties for 30 yards. This sums it up: The defense could have gotten out of the first series unscathed but had consecutive offside penalties after it was second-and-20, one of which negated an interception. On Green Bay’s second drive, the Panthers had too many men on the field on third-and-3. I haven’t even mentioned all the missed tackles. To say this unit is a shell of the one that finished second in the league a season ago is an understatement. It was so bad that reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly was ejected in the third quarter after making contact with an official trying to separate him from a pile.

Wild card: Not to be lost in the wreckage, tight end Greg Olsen had another strong showing. He caught eight passes for 105 yards as he continues on a pace for career numbers. Even if the Panthers don’t turn things around, Olsen is playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Game ball: Not that anybody really deserves one, but I’ll give it to punter Brad Nortman. He kicked more times in the first half (five) than many punters do for a game. He finished with seven punts for an average of 53.9 yards, including a 67-yarder.

What’s next: The Panthers return home from two road games to face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Seattle (3-3) has won the last three games in the series, including a 12-7 victory at Bank of America Stadium in last year's opener.

W2W4: Panthers vs. Packers

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
The Carolina Panthers are 2-0 versus the NFC North this season and have won three straight against the division. The Green Bay Packers have won six straight against NFC South opponents.

Something will have to give when the defending NFC South champion Panthers (3-2-1) face the defending NFC North champion Packers (4-2) on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Here are three things to keep an eye on in the 1 p.m. game:
  • Aaron Rodgers. No quarterback in the league is playing at a higher level. He has 15 touchdowns to only one interception and a passer rating of 111.4 that ranks second in the NFL. He’ll be facing a defense ranked 26th overall and 20th against the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, he’ll be facing two cornerbacks -- Antoine Cason and Melvin White -- against whom quarterbacks have racked up passer ratings of 113.1 and 126.1. Pressure doesn’t bother Rodgers much, either. As Carolina coach Ron Rivera said, Rodgers is as efficient outside the pocket as he is in it.
  • The read-option. The Packers rank last in the NFL at stopping the run, and in particular have struggled against the read-option. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is one of the best at running the read-option when healthy. He finally was considered healthy enough to run it last week and rushed 17 times for 107 yards. The best way to stop Rodgers (see above) is to keep the ball out of his hands. Carolina’s best chance is for Newton and the offense to run off time with long drives. Ending with touchdowns would help.
  • Get off the field. The defense has struggled to do that, one reason it ranks 23rd or worse in four major categories. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Panthers have given up first downs on third down at a higher rate (50 percent) than every team in the league not named the Raiders (51.4 percent). Last week, Cincinnati was 6-for-7 on third down in the first half and 10-for-16 for the game. If that happens against Aaron Rodgers it will be a long day.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton statistically is off to the best start of his NFL career.

 Despite a new set of wide receivers and a revamped offensive line, despite dealing with offseason ankle surgery and fractured ribs in training camp, the fourth-year quarterback has a quarterback rating of 65.2 through his first five games.

That’s significantly better than his rating of 47.0 as a rookie in 2011 and 44.9 the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Newton is coming off a season-high 82.9 quarterback rating in a 37-37 tie against Cincinnati.

Coach Ron Rivera said Newton is playing better than ever.

“In a roundabout way, as some people like to say around here, it’s like a forward fumble that he went through the whole surgery with the ankle when he did,’’ Rivera said of the left ankle that was repaired in March. “If you look at his technique, the base fundamentals he uses, how he goes through things now, he’s very proficient.

“This may have been that next big step that we’re all looking for him to take.’’

Newton has thrown seven touchdowns to only two interceptions for a career-best 3.5 ratio since missing the opener with fractured ribs. He began with a ratio of 1.8 in 2013, 1.2 in 2011 and 0.8 in 2012.

That the Panthers (3-2-1) unleashed Newton as a runner against Cincinnati should make him better. He rushed 17 times for 107 yards against the Bengals, but also completed 29 of 46 pass attempts for a season-high 284 yards and two touchdowns.

Newton has done all of this without all-time leading receiver Steve Smith, who was released in March.

The emergence of rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who may miss Sunday’s game at Green Bay with a concussion, has been one factor. Benjamin has 31 catches for 416 yards and four touchdowns.

Tight end Greg Olsen also has emerged as a Pro Bowl candidate. His 33 catches for 388 yards and five touchdowns has him on pace for career highs.

But Newton has been the key. He has a 92.3 passer rating, completing 61.7 percent of his passes. Since Week 6 of 2013, Newton has a 92.5 passer rating.

Newton is spreading the ball around better than ever. He threw to 10 different receivers against Cincinnati and to nine different receivers the week before against Chicago.

Last season, Newton never threw to more than seven different receivers in a game and averaged 6.1 a game.

As tight end, Olsen has said repeatedly the last few weeks, Newton is “throwing the ball as good, if not better, than he’s ever thrown the ball.’’

“And that’s saying a lot,’’ he added.

Wide receiver Jason Avant hasn’t been here the past three seasons to compare, but he’s been impressed.

“The crazy thing about this game, when you have an injury, it can cause you to do two things,’’ he said. “One, which Cam has done, to use it as a point to strengthen other areas, such as the passing game.

“Or you can just tank it. And he’s not a tank it-type person.’’

Newton could be called on to run more against a Green Bay defense ranked last in the NFL against the run.

“The things we do see on film, we have to take full advantage of it,’’ Newton said. “This is a very athletic bunch. We know that. Anything that possesses an edge on our end, we’re going to try to target that as best as possible.’’

That Newton didn’t feel unusually sore after the 17 carries was a good sign.

“When I looked up after the game I didn’t realize I had 17 rushes,’’ he said. “But if that’s what it takes to win, I’m willing to do it all over again.’’

At the level he’s playing, there’s no reason to doubt him.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Now that quarterback Cam Newton is back to his old self, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula is back to answering the same old question.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/AJ MastCam Newton was a force in the run game against the Bengals, gaining 107 yards on 17 carries.
Did you run him too much?

"I'll give you a great answer," Shula said on Monday, 24 hours after Newton ran a career-high 17 times for 107 yards in a 37-37 tie against Cincinnati. "I feel I ran him too much, and yet I don't feel I ran him enough."

The perfect answer.

It captures the entire damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma Shula faces every week. He knows Newton is a weapon every time he takes off. He also knows every time the fourth-year player takes off he runs the risk of being hurt.

"It keeps you up at night," Shula said.

Was Shula up last night?

"No," he said.

That's because Shula trusts Newton now more than he might have a year ago to do the right thing, whether it's making the right read or knowing when to get down to avoid the big hit.

"There's still a risk factor out there," said Shula, understanding Newton has been hit almost twice as many times as any other quarterback the past three seasons. "There's a fine line."

Prior to Sunday, Newton had run only 14 times for 42 yards this season. Coaches were taking to heart advice from trainers and doctors to protect the Pro Bowler's left ankle that was surgically repaired in March.

Shula never planned to run Newton 17 times on Sunday. But during halftime, trailing 17-10 and needing to find a way to keep Cincinnati's high-powered offense off the field, the decision was made to at least give the read option a few opportunities.

When the player who has accounted for 33.1 percent of Carolina's rush offense the past three years scored on a 12-yard run for a 24-17 lead in the third quarter, a few turned into a lot.

"Had a lot of success," Shula said. "Just kept it going."

That doesn't mean Shula will run Newton 17 times this week against Green Bay. He hopes simply the threat of Newton running will open more room for the running backs and wide receivers to make plays.

He knows the offensive line will play better because of that threat. Defenses no longer will be able to tee off on the backs on every run play and Newton on every pass play.

"There were a lot of good things to build on," Shula said. "Obviously, he's a weapon."

The hard part is deciding how often to use the legs of that weapon.

Asked if he'll ever figure it out, Shula smiled and said, "That's the fun thing."
CINCINNATI -- Cam Newton didn't know what to say or how to feel after his best all-around game of the season.

"It would have felt better if we got a win," the Carolina Panthers quarterback said after rushing for more than 100 yards and passing for nearly 300 during Sunday's 37-37 overtime tie against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Newton, like most of his teammates, never had experienced a tie. It was awkward. As much as he felt relief that the Bengals missed a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the extra period, he felt disappointment the Panthers (3-2-1) didn't put this one away when they had their chances.

And there were chances, down to a dropped touchdown pass by Jerricho Cotchery in overtime.

But if there is one positive Newton and the team should take away from this, it's that the quarterback's left ankle no longer is an issue.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/AJ MastCam Newton was a force in the run game against the Bengals, gaining 107 yards on 17 carries.
Newton officially has been unleashed.

"He had a pretty good day, huh?" tight end Greg Olsen said with a smile.

Good day, indeed.

What shouldn't be lost in the tie is that Newton ran 17 times for 107 yards and a touchdown after running only 14 times for 42 yards in the first five games.

It wasn't a career day. Newton had 116 yards rushing on nine carries against Atlanta in 2012.

But it was a day that sent a message to the rest of the league that the first pick of the 2011 draft is back to doing what he does best. When Newton runs the Panthers are more dynamic offensively.

"He was phenomenal," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's pretty close to being who he is."

With Newton closer to what he can be, the Carolina offense can be closer to what it wants to be. The offensive line that struggled in a traditional run game flourished with Newton running the read-option.

The receivers benefited as well. Lanes opened for them when linebackers and cornerbacks paused to worry about whether Newton would run. Newton completed 29 of 46 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was a matter of time," Olsen said. "When he gets out there and starts running and gets in that flow, it's what makes him different from anybody else."

Almost every day since Newton underwent surgery to tighten the ligaments in the ankle, he has been asked when the coaches were going to turn him loose. It became such an issue two weeks ago that Newton admitted the recovery was taking longer than he expected.

Newton didn't realize he was going to run this much on Sunday.

But the ankle did feel better coming into this game. Newton said trainers went back to the basics of trying to strengthen the ligaments and muscles instead of icing the ankle and treating it to relieve soreness, as had been the recent routine.

"I said from the beginning we were not going to do anything to put the young man at risk," Rivera said. "He's our franchise quarterback. We waited. We did what the doctors told us. We did what the trainers told us."

But even then Newton didn't know how good the ankle was until he really tested it in the open field.

That came in the third quarter, when he went 12 yards off right tackle for his first rushing touchdown of the season. Before that, Newton had nine yards on three carries.

Then it was game on.

"When you call one play and it gets 10-plus [yards], you highlight that play moving forward," Newton said.

Newton averaged seven yards on his final 14 carries. Olsen said a few of those plays could have gone for more had the blocking been better.

That will be in the minds of every defensive coordinator moving forward.

"I'm just glad he was on our team," Carolina defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said.

That doesn't mean the Panthers will run Newton 17 times a game, which according to ESPN Stats & Information research was the most for a quarterback since Tim Tebow for Denver in 2011.

But with Newton now a threat to run, it should open things up for the rest of the offense.

The Panthers are going to need a more prolific offense if the defense continues to struggle. This is the third time in the past four games they've given up 37 or more points. Only one opponent scored more than 24 points -- and none more than 31 -- against the Panthers last season.

Until the defense begins playing more consistently, Newton will have to be more dynamic.

Now that he has been unleashed, he has that chance.
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers' 37-37 overtime tie against the Cincinnati Bengals:
  • Finding a Carolina player who had been a part of a tie before Sunday was fruitless. Not even head coach Ron Rivera had experienced one. "Odd. I had to think about what I was going to say to the players," he said.

  • Quarterback Cam Newton looked like he could play another quarter despite carrying a season-high 17 times for 107 yards rushing -- he had only 14 carries coming into the game -- and completing 29 of 46 pass attempts for 284 yards and two touchdowns. "I'd feel better if we came away with a win."

  • Rivera on Newton's performance: "He was phenomenal."

  • Tight end Greg Olsen summed up how most players felt about the tie: "You put in a full week and fight our asses off to tie. That's a little disheartening."

  • Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly won't remember his first NFL game in his hometown because he had 144 family members and friends cheering him on from a midlevel section at Paul Brown Stadium. He'll remember it for the tie. "It'll definitely be memorable for that reason."

  • Running back Fozzy Whittaker aggravated a quad injury and didn't get to finish the game, but he didn't act like it would keep him out of next week's game at Green Bay. "I'll still hit it," he said.

  • Punter Graham Gano said the wind on the river side of the stadium where Cincinnati's Mike Nugent missed the game-winning 36-yard field goal in overtime was swirling just like it was when he missed a 37-yarder in the fourth quarter. "Yeah, that's a tough direction," he said.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before he took off his pads, before he went for treatment on his left ankle or met with the media following Sunday's victory, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton stopped to talk to Kelvin Benjamin.

Benjamin had a tough game.

Newton understood better than most what that was like for the first-round draft pick. He wanted to let his prize wide receiver know everything would be OK.

Like Newton did in 2010 at Auburn, Benjamin went through an undefeated season and won the BCS National Championship last season at Florida State. It was a dream year for Benjamin in which seemingly everything went right, down to catching the winning touchdown in the title game.

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AP Photo/Paul SpinelliKelvin Benjamin caught just three of the 11 passes he was targeted on against the Bears and also fumbled.
But as Newton learned in 2011, the success you have in college doesn't always translate into the immediate success in the NFL. You're not going to win every game and you're not going to look like a superstar every week.

"It's kind of hard for him going through the year that he had, not losing, not facing any adversity as far as loses, and winning the best prize you can win in college football," Newton said. "When you finally hit a reality check and you're excited about coming into this league, you kind of feel like that is going to carry over."

It didn't carry over for Newton. He threw 17 interceptions to 21 touchdowns as a rookie as Carolina struggled to a 6-10 record. He relied a lot on his athletic ability, pulling the ball down and running in situations he may now throw the ball away.

Newton threw 24 touchdowns to 13 interceptions last season. He's at a five to one ratio so far this season.

Benjamin to a degree is able to rely on his athletic ability. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he can get balls others can't simply because of his size.

But the days of the quarterback simply throwing the ball up and letting Benjamin go get it doesn't always work in the NFL. Defenders play him tighter and players are more physical than they were in college.

So he'll make mistakes, like the fumble and two drops he had against Chicago.

"There's some things he has to learn," Newton said. "He has unbelievable potential, but as I said before, potential has never gotten you anything."

The Panthers need Benjamin to be at his best for Newton and the rest of the offense to be at its best. He wasn't at his best against Chicago, catching three passes after being targeted 11 times -- a 27 percent ratio.

In the previous two games, Benjamin caught 13 of 20 targets, 65 percent.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said the 11 targets on Sunday weren't too many. It's the percentage that has to improve.

Ultimately, Shula would rather have Benjamin targeted 11 times than three. When Benjamin plays well that opens up the field for tight end Greg Olsen and the other receivers.

The better Benjamin gets at running routes, blocking and doing many of the small things he didn't always have to in college, the better he and the team will be.

"Like I've said numerous times about Benji, he has the three S's that only God can give a person," Newton said. "He has the size, he has strength and he has speed.

"This league can easily humble you. Not saying Benji has slipped. He's [just] at that point where it's really becoming clear to him each and every week 'I have to get better.'"

That's what Newton and Benjamin focused on Wednesday.

"The things we that we feel is our bread and butter, we have to keep mastering it," Newton said. "No matter how many times we throw it, no matter how many times he runs it, we've still got to get better."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You knew the subject of Andy Dalton ’s new contract with the Cincinnati Bengals would come up this week, as he came out of the same 2011 draft class as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

It didn’t take long.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a Wednesday conference call with reporters in Charlotte that the six-year, $115 million deal Dalton signed in August has been comforting because neither he nor his quarterback have to answer weekly questions about when a deal will get done.

“Now he’s just able to be Andy and do his thing and go play," Lewis said of Dalton, taken with the fourth pick of the second round.

Newton doesn’t get asked about when he’ll get a new deal every week, but it has come up a couple of times. It did again Wednesday in reference to Lewis’ comments as the Panthers prepare for Cincinnati.

As usual, Newton sidestepped it.

“Well, I think contract talk is the last of my worries," the first pick of the 2011 draft said. “I think I have my plate full preparing for the Cincinnati Bengals."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers remain committed to Newton long-term. As far as a new contract, he said, “Everything will happen in due time."

In other words, the Panthers continue to get the salary cap in order to have the flexibility to sign Newton, who is locked up through the 2015 season after the team picked up his fifth-year option.

“There’s a lot of things we want to get done," Rivera said. “Everything will happen in due time. He’s our starting quarterback. He’s our guy."

Newton could have been Cincinnati’s guy had the Panthers not selected him. The Bengals had the fourth overall pick and spent a lot of time with the former Auburn star and his parents.

“He has it just in every way," Lewis said of Newton. “We felt he really could come on right away as a productive rookie and be a starter, and that we could build the offense around him and he would just keep emerging.

“Everywhere he’s played, he won. He’s been a great leader everywhere he’s been. We were just comfortable with him."

With Newton gone, the Bengals used their first-round pick on wide receiver A.J. Green, who has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first three seasons.

That they picked Dalton in the second round was almost a bonus.

“He’s been the starting quarterback from the day he’s walked in here and he’s never looked back," Lewis said. “He was the quarterback, then he grew into the offensive leader and now he’s the leader of the football team.

“We didn’t get a chance at Cam, so we had to go with a guy that we thought could really help us."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- To say Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula had little experience in the no-huddle offense before arriving in Charlotte in 2011 might be understated.

Let me put it into perspective.

Shula said the Panthers probably ran more no huddle the past two games than he did his entire career as the offensive coordinator at Tampa Bay (1996-99), the quarterbacks coach with Miami Dolphins (2000-02), the head coach at Alabama (2003-06) and the quarterbacks coach at Jacksonville (2007-10).

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Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton completed 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown on no-huddle drives to end the first half and begin the second half.
Quarterback Cam Newton, on the other hand, had plenty of experience with it before the Panthers made him the first pick of the 2011 draft.

He ran it his entire college career, exclusively in 2010 en route to leading Auburn to an undefeated season and the BCS National Championship.

Much of what Shula has learned about the no-huddle scheme that was instrumental in helping Carolina beat Chicago 31-24 on Sunday came from studying Newton at Auburn.

"They never huddled," Shula said on Monday. "He never called a play at the line of scrimmage. I don't know if he ever had a snap count. They had all those signs up. He just looked over and the rest of the team looked over, got the signal, then he lifted his leg and got the ball."

Shula has no plans to go to that extreme. He still believes Newton is an effective weapon under center even though his statistics on Sunday said he was better in the no huddle.

"I think he's good at both," Shula said.

But Shula likes what the no huddle offers in terms of getting Newton and his young offensive line into a rhythm. He said the way Carolina runs it is not contrary to his offensive philosophy built around a balanced mix of run and pass while taking time off the clock.

Despite an increase in no huddle this season, the Panthers still rank 27th in the NFL in "real time" between plays at 40.1 seconds. They ranked 32nd last season at 41.6 seconds and were 29th the previous two seasons at 41.4 and 41.3 seconds.

"The bottom line, you have to have a good mix," Shula said. "I don't think you want to go to it the whole game. If we weren't good at it we probably wouldn't be doing it at all."

The Panthers were very good at it on Sunday, running it the last series of the first half and the first series of the second half to wipe out a 21-7 deficit.

Newton completed 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown on those drives. He was 11-for-24 for 131 yards and a touchdown the rest of the game.

The first drive had six passes (one incompletion) and one run because the Panthers were rushing to score before halftime. The second half drive was more of what Shula wants to see out of the formation. Carolina threw five times and ran four times, scoring on a 1-yard run by Chris Ogbonnaya.

Newton wasn't sacked on any of those plays.

The week before, the Panthers opened against Baltimore in the no huddle. They were moving efficiently until a penalty and sack took them out of field goal range.

So why doesn't Shula run no huddle more?

"The question that comes to mind when you ask that is, OK, Cam was really good in the shotgun in college," Shula said. "That's all he did. He was really good. You drafted him No. 1. Well, why don't you do shotgun all the time?

"Well, looking at our first year, he actually performed better under the center in the NFL, [and] he never had any snaps there. Those are kind of tough questions to answer, but they're good questions because he's playing well there."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No huddle, no problem for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Carolina trailed 21-7 when it went to the no-huddle offense on its final drive of the first half of Sunday’s 31-24 victory against the Chicago Bears.

The Panthers scored a touchdown on that drive, as well as their first drive of the second half (also in the no-huddle), which tied the game at 21.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton completed 8 of 11 for 124 yards and a TD during two no-huddle drives against Chicago.
Newton was particularly efficient during those drives, completing 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. He was 8-for-24 for 131 yards and a touchdown the rest of the game.

Newton threw to six different receivers during the no-huddle drives, with five different receivers making a catch. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was targeted twice, getting turned around and unable to make a play on the ball while open in the end zone on the first drive.

He dropped a pass on the second drive. He also dropped what would've been a touchdown on the second drive, but was let off the hook when officials called defensive pass interference.

Had Benjamin made a couple of plays, Newton’s numbers would have been more impressive. Regardless, the no-huddle attack was key to the comeback.

"Man, that was one of our best drives of the season," tight end Greg Olsen said of the drive before the half. “Went down ... bang, bang. Cam was in an awesome groove there. From that point on he was on fire. That kind of sparked us going into halftime."

Newton said there was no sense of panic when Carolina went to the no-huddle.

"We’ve been in these particular situations before, either with the lead or without it," he said. "And guys responded, and that’s what you want to see."

The Panthers have used the no-huddle in other games to get Newton and the offense into a rhythm. They used it on their first three drives in a Week 4 loss at Baltimore.

Newton was 8-for-12 for 135 yards and a touchdown on those drives. He was 6-for-13 for 62 yards the rest of the game. Were it not for an offensive pass interference penalty and sack, the Panthers likely would have come away with at least a field goal on the first drive.

"He reacts to a lot of things and he makes a lot of good decisions when we put it in his hands like that," coach Ron Rivera said of Newton in the no-huddle. "That’s something he thrives on."

The Panthers don’t run the no-huddle to speed the game up as some teams do. They typically use most of the 40 seconds between plays and the 25 seconds after the ball is declared ready for play before making the snap.

They run it in much the same way as Peyton Manning does at Denver, letting Newton make adjustments at the line and giving the defense no opportunity to substitute.

Still, it’s a shift in philosophy for a Carolina team that last season used more "real time" -- 42.7 seconds -- between plays than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"When you look at us running the no-huddle, it’s not us trying to run fast," Newton said. "It’s just trying to tempo the defense. We can’t allow the defense to pin their ears back and stay fresh on every down.

"We have as athletic of offensive linemen as I’ve been around. We have great endurance, so we use that as our edge for each and every game."

But Newton is the key.

"He does a good job of recognizing the defense and he does a good job of keeping it going," center Ryan Kalil said. "I thought obviously we were able to get in more of a rhythm.

"Not that the huddle stuff wasn’t effective, but for whatever reason we were able to keep the momentum going and keep them on their heels and finish. That’s what you want to do."