Panthers content to let Cam Newton be 'Superman' with his running game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You can make fun of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for his misspeaks, and he had another one on Sunday when he referred to the offense as the "Titanic" and not because he believes it to be sinking.

Just call them "Cam-isms."

But you typically can’t make fun of Newton’s effort, particularly on plays such as the second-quarter 9-yard touchdown run that sparked the Panthers to a 20-17 NFC South victory over Atlanta.

Make that flight.

Seven months removed from surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, only a few days after his good friend Deshaun Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury in practice, without any regard to his body, Newton went airborne around the 3-yard line and basically spiked the ball off the helmet of cornerback Desmond Trufant as the ball crossed the goal line.

As Newton said afterward, “I wasn’t caring about body ligaments or whatever."

The Panthers (6-3) aren’t scoring consistently like they did in 2015 when they led the league with 31.3 points a game, but Newton is running like he did during his MVP season when he had a career-best 132 rushes.

He carried nine times on Sunday for 86 yards, the most by a quarterback this season. Over the past four games he has led the Panthers in rushing with 251 yards on 40 carries.

His 69 carries in nine games are only 21 shy of the 90 he had a year ago in 15 games. If he continues at his pace of the past four games (9.75 carries per game) and stays healthy through 16 games, he’ll finish with a career-high 137 carries.

It wasn’t that long ago that coach Ron Rivera was looking for ways to curtail his quarterback’s running for Newton’s long-term health, but now he seems content to turn him loose.

“He sees opportunities and he takes them," Rivera said. “One of the naked [bootlegs] was really what he read. It wasn’t called. It was his decision and he made one hell of a decision on it."

That play turned into a 34-yard run.

But the leaping touchdown is what defines who Newton has been since he entered the league as the top pick of the 2011 draft.

"I give it an A," tight end Ed Dickson said. “When your quarterback sacrifices himself like that, I’ll run through a brick wall for that guy. ... When I saw the look in his eyes and the motivation in his eyes -- I could have played another whole game."

Newton’s teammates aren’t surprised when he makes such plays.

“He already thinks he’s Superman," nickel back Captain Munnerlyn said. “I knew he was going to take off. I was just glad he got in."

The Panthers have to be concerned that Newton is carrying the running game, although rookie Christian McCaffrey took on a bigger role this day with 15 carries for a career-high 66 yards.

The fact that lead running back Jonathan Stewart is struggling also has to be a concern. Stewart had 21 yards and two fumbles against the Falcons, and he has only 120 yards rushing in the last five games combined.

But as a team the Panthers ran for a season-high 201 yards, using reverses and end-around plays to get their wide receivers involved.

It was effective even if it put the quarterback at risk, which again no longer seems to be a concern.

Sixty-seven of Newton’s yards against Atlanta came on six designed rushes. He is averaging 44 yards on 5.5 designed runs per game over the past four weeks after averaging 10 yards on 2.4 rushes the first five games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The touchdown run, by the way, was a scramble. It was Newton’s first scramble touchdown since Week 12 of 2015.

So Newton running again is a conscious decision by him and the staff.

Instead of thinking about the impact it might have on his body five years down the road, the focus is on winning now because the Panthers believe they have an opportunity to make a run at the Super Bowl.

"I’ve been playing like this for a long time," said Newton, who already holds most of the career records for a running quarterback. "I trust in my preparation. I trust my body. I trust the things I put in my body that I’m going to be 100 percent come game time.

“I pretty much have an unbelievable supporting cast with trainers and coaches that get my body in tip-top shape when it needs to be."

On Sunday, Newton made an unbelievable touchdown run.

"He’s just a baller, man," guard Trai Turner said. “So when I see it, it’s not really a surprise. When he does, not only does it get the team going, the offense going, it gets him going."