Cam Newton insists his success isn’t coming easily. All he’s doing is whatever he can to help the Carolina Panthers win.
On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that was just about everything.
The rookie ran for three more touchdowns to set the NFL single-season record for TDs rushing by a quarterback, pacing a 38-19 rout of the struggling Buccaneers with a dominating performance that revealed something else he’s capable of doing: catching passes.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner scored the 11th, 12th and 13th TDs of his career on a trio of 1-yard runs. He also had his first reception as a pro to set up Jonathan Stewart’s first-quarter TD, then threw a 19-yard TD pass to Legedu Naanee to finish one of Carolina’s three scoring drives of 80-plus yards.
”I wouldn’t say it’s easier each week. It’s a challenge each and every week,” Newton said after Carolina (4-8) won its second straight to double the team’s victory total for last season.
”The one thing I’ve seemed to get is more comfortable,” the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft added. ” Dictating to the defense to some degree with your eyes, the pre-snap reads. The only difference in the NFL and college is the athleticism increases at each position.”
Tampa Bay (4-8), which played in throwback creamsicle jerseys and white helmets bearing the logo of a winking pirate, has lost six straight and seven of eight following a 3-1 start. The Bucs had nine penalties to Carolina’s two, and coach Raheem Morris lashed out at his team for what he described as unsmart play.
”I can take getting beat by a better football team. I wish they were,” Morris said. ”The foolish things that happened in that game, as far as penalties, some of the things that we caused, are just unacceptable. We are not playing like a smart football team right now.”
The coach’s frustration peaked on the final play of the third quarter when Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes sacked Newton for a 4-yard loss only to have tackle Brian Price flagged for unnecessary roughness. It was not clear what Price did to draw the penalty.
Morris removed Price from the game and ”sent him home.”
”It was foolish. It’s selfish to your teammates, to everybody in the organization, to your fans. That’s terrible. That’s just selfish behavior, to get a 15-yard penalty in that situation when that’s all we talk about, that’s all we discuss,” Morris said. ”You just don’t do that to your team.”
The Bucs played without quarterback Josh Freeman, who sat out with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Josh Johnson made his fifth pro start, throwing for 229 yards and one touchdown while also leading his team in rushing.
Newton completed 12 of 21 passes for 204 yards and no interceptions. He added 54 yards rushing on 14 carries, teaming with Stewart (14 attempts, 80 yards) to help Carolina gain 163 on the ground. Newton nearly scored on a 27-yard reception after throwing backward to Naanee on the far side of the field and taking a throw-back to the left.
Stewart’s 1-yard run put Carolina up 14-0. Newton leaped over the pile to finish an 83-yard, game-opening march and tied the record for rushing TDs by a quarterback to make it 31-12 in the third quarter. His third TD, giving him one more than New England’s Steve Grogan scored in 1976, finished a 15-play, 81-yard drive.
”It does mean something to me. I’m not going to sit up here and say it doesn’t mean something,” Newton said of the record. ”I’m not focusing on individualism in this game. It’s still 11-on-11. I don’t think I could’ve done anything without those other 10 guys, most importantly the five guys who are blocking their tails off each and every snap.”
Connor Barth kicked field goals of 50, 47, 46 and 44 yards for Tampa Bay in the first half. Johnson didn’t get the Bucs into the end zone until he threw a 23-yard TD pass to Dezmon Briscoe in the fourth quarter.
Freeman injured his throwing shoulder on Tampa Bay’s final offensive play of last week’s 23-17 loss at Tennessee when he dropped the snap on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak and was stopped for no gain. He was limited in practice, making some soft throws on Thursday and Friday and declared out Sunday morning.
The third-year pro became Tampa Bay’s starter following an 0-7 start his rookie season and led his team to a surprising 10-6 record in 2010 to heighten expectations for this year. But after throwing for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions a year ago, Freeman has been inconsistent this season while also playing the past few weeks with a sprained right thumb that he insists was not a factor in his performance.
Johnson started four games – all losses – in 2009. The fourth-year pro had appeared in six games this season, primarily on designed running plays and attempting just seven passes. His running ability showed up late in the second quarter, when he scrambled 14 yards on third-and-5 and for a 7-yard gain that set up Barth’s fourth field goal, trimming Carolina’s lead to 21-12.
But the Panthers weren’t content to sit on the ball in the final minute of the half. Newton threw 12 yards to Stewart and 31 yards to Brandon LaFell to set up Olindo Mare’s 43-yard field goal as time expired to restore a 12-point lead. They never looked back in second half.
Carolina, coming off a 27-19 win over Indianapolis, won on the road for the second straight week.
”It’s very satisfying. The big thing that’s really exciting is we have a bunch of young guys who have gone through so much, now they’re seeing some rewards,” first-year coach Ron Rivera said, adding that he thinks the Panthers are capable of finishing the month strong.
”I think we do have a run in us. We’ve got good football teams coming – Atlanta, Houston, Tampa again,” Rivera said. We’ve got to continue to work. We need to finish strong. We do expect to build on this and gain momentum.”
Notes: Former Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony. . . . Panthers WR Steve Smith had two receptions for 32 yards, leaving him 24 shy of 10,000 for his career.