They don’t call him Superman for nothing.
Leaping in the air Cam Newton lunges forward like “The Man of Steel” extending his right arm past the goal line to make his way past two defenders. The play pulled Carolina Panthers ahead 14-10 before half in a game they won 20-17, Sunday. While the team rushed for 201 yards Newton led the pack with 86 yards on nine rushes as he took an aggressive approach to tuck and run like he had done in years past, something he’s gotten away from this season to lower risk of injury.
“I didn’t want to leave nothing out there to chance. I just wanted to take what the defense gave me,” Newton said during the post game press conference Sunday. “This was one of those games I wasn’t caring about body ligaments or whatever.”
While Newton had exposed himself to a higher risk of injury by tucking and running he’s bringing more energy to the offense, Rivera told reporters at Monday’s press conference. He also admired the emotion Newton brought to the game as well, another trait Newton possessed in years past that helped lead the team to Super Bowl L.
Getting the crowd involved and celebrating when moving the chains was a necessity, says Newton. Before the game he noticed when Panthers lack emotion it doesn’t lead to good play.
“If we can get the Bank of America Stadium with a pulse that’s when we’re at our best,” Newton said.
“He played very emotional yesterday which I think really spilled over to the team. The guys picked up his energy level,” Rivera said. “That’s when he’s at his best.”
His emotions also convinced the coaching staff to take a chance on a fourth and inches situation that led to a field goal, points that decided the game. It was risk Newton knew the team needed to take.
“If I can’t, as a player, get an inch it’s mano a mano. Its 11 on 11, this is what football is all about. Its 11 guys coming together for a common goal. I feel as if I’m just glad coaches gave me an opportunity to go for it,” Newton said.
Plays like this is what Kawann Short expected this rivalry game to come down to.
Falcons “hate us just as much as we hate them. We know we gone get they best just like we gone give them our best…we knew it was going to come down to a couple of possessions,” Short told reporters after the game Sunday.
In a game of scoring swings Panthers effort before half was symbolic to a championship team, Newton said. Panthers were able to overcome an early 10 point deficit to score 20 unanswered and held off the Falcons late attempt to comeback in the game holding them to seven points in the final quarter.
“When you play a divisional opponent like Atlanta [who] know us pretty well, its going to be body blows, going back and forth,” tightend Ed Dickson told reporters Sunday. “This is a good victory.”
While Panthers caught a break with a dropped ball by Falcons Julio Jones in the fourth quarter, Rivera praised the corners on defense.
“They came up against, probably, one of the best tandems in the league. I thought they held their own for the most part,” Rivera said.
As for Panthers being the no. 1 defense in the NFL Rivera’s impressed by how many new additions to the defense understood the tactics from the get go.
“Credit goes to the guys we brought here…coaches have done a heck of a job..then the players buying into what we do. That’s probably the most important thing,” Rivera said.
Expecting the defense to play well this game was about the offense doing their part, Newton said. Having to play without wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who was traded three minutes before trade deadline last week, was one of those challenges. For Newton, the way to overcome this obstacle was to get everyone on offense involved, bring energy and stay optimistic about the whole situation. Through it all, Panthers found their identity.
“We’re going to claw, we’re going to keep pounding throughout this whole game until we get the much needed win,” Newton said.
With the running game back and Newton making plays with his feet when needed, Rivera likes where his 6-3 squad is headed before hosting Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
“As you look at what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to establish ourselves I think this is a good step in the right direction for us,” Rivera said.
By Gino Terrell