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Patriots matchup a reminder of what can happen when Cam Newton runs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn’t have to run.

It was in last year’s third preseason game against New England that running back DeAngelo Williams was breaking free down the right sideline. Tight end Greg Olsen also was a potential option.

So was throwing the ball away.

But Newton took off around the right side even though he still was recovering from offseason surgery on his left ankle.

As he slowed to go to the ground, Newton’s foot caught the turf and he awkwardly rolled forward. He took a knee from linebacker Jamie Collins in a vulnerable spot in the back of the flak jacket.

Two days later, an MRI revealed a hairline rib fracture that kept Newton out of the opener against Tampa Bay.

“Very frustrating," coach Ron Rivera said at the time. “The unfortunate part is he had a chance to make a play on it. He chose to tuck it and run. One thing he’s going to have to learn is either dump it or learn how to slide."

Fast-forward to the first half of Saturday night’s 31-30 victory over Miami.

Newton didn’t have to run again.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1, the fifth-year quarterback took the snap out of the shotgun. With two of his receivers tied up at the line of scrimmage, Newton reversed field and scrambled for the pylon on the left side of the end zone.

He came up short, tucking the ball as he dove forward instead of stretching it out with his arms. He said he would have been more aggressive had it been a regular-season game.

He never thought about throwing the ball away.

Said Rivera: “I always hold my breath when he is running around."

As the Panthers prepare to face the Patriots again Friday in their third preseason game, one thing is clear: Newton will always run if he thinks it’s the best option.

But the best option in the preseason, based on his injury last year against the Patriots, might be not to run.

“It was just one of those freak things," fullback Mike Tolbert said as he recalled the New England game.

Tolbert went on to say how well backup Derek Anderson played against Tampa Bay in the opener.

But ... yes, there was a but.

“At the same time, we need our gunslingers," Tolbert added. “With [Newton] being on the field, it gives us a lot better chance of winning."

What will Newton if he has a chance to run again Friday?

Look at the history.