Panthers need Newton to run to reach goals

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he couldn't make a living running 12 times a game after last Sunday's 21-20 victory at Atlanta.

Here's a thought: The Panthers can't complete their goal of getting to the Super Bowl if Newton doesn't run.

Evidence: The Panthers are 9-0 this season when Newton runs seven or more times. They are 3-4 when he runs six times or fewer.

The Atlanta game was a prime example of what Newton can do with his legs. With the offense stagnant, the first pick of the 2011 draft took to the ground for a season-high six scrambles for 47 yards. Four of those came on third down and three went for first downs.

Overall, Newton converted five first downs on rushes, the most by a quarterback since Vince Young in 2006. The other two came on quarterback sneaks in which he made it look easy with his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame.

On the season, Newton has a league-high 15 first downs on third-down scrambles.

Maybe Newton was frustrated that he missed a few passes he felt he shouldn't have when he made the comment about running. Maybe he was frustrated he was wild high at times for the second straight game.

Maybe the ankle he tweaked a week earlier against New Orleans was bothering him after he ran for 72 yards against the Falcons.

But when I asked him about his "making a living" comment on Thursday his tone had changed.

"The prototypical offense really doesn't allow the offense to run that many times," Newton said of the scheme offensive coordinator Mike Shula has implemented. "But given the hand I was dealt and the comfort level, especially early on in the game, I was just looking for something to get the team going, to get the offense going.

"That's what the defense gave me. Whether guys were running open, whether guys were covered up or not, I felt my best attribute at the time was running the football and keeping the chains moving."

And here's the most significant thing, he said.

"In that situation, if it presents itself again, I'd be willing to run it even 13 times," Newton said. "I'm in the league to win the football games, and that's our only expectation."

Exactly. Newton and the Panthers (12-4) are only two wins from getting to the Super Bowl. If that means the franchise quarterback has to run it 20 times a game, so be it.

Steve Young ran a career-high 76 times for a career-high 537 yards in 1992 when he led San Francisco to the NFC championship.

In the 1994 season, Young ran 10 times for 47 yards in the NFC Championship Game and another five times for 49 yards in the Super Bowl even though he threw a record six touchdowns.

When your legs are part of your arsenal, you use them.

As much as Shula wants to implement a pro-style offense, he understands that as well. So I asked him if considering the circumstances, Newton should throw caution to the wind when it comes to running.

"The best way to probably answer that is whatever it takes for us to move the ball and get points on the board," Shula said.

Maybe Newton can't make a long career living off running 12 times a game, but he certainly has a chance to make a legacy doing it this year.