Is Panthers QB Cam Newton’s running game back for good?

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton rushed a career-high 17 times against the Bengals on Sunday.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When it was revealed back in March that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was going to have an ankle surgically repaired by tightening up the ligaments, the first question fans and media alike wanted to know was whether or not it would change the way he plays. In other words, would Newton still be the dynamic runner that he’d been during his first three years in the NFL? The immediate answer: No.

In his first four games this season, Newton barely ran the ball, neither on designed runs nor scrambles. It was evident his ankle was not healthy and many wondered if he’d be healthy at all this season.

Then lo and behold, the old Newton emerged at Cincinnati last Sunday and not only did he finally have designed running plays called for him, but he ran more than in any other time in his young NFL career.

Against the Bengals, Newton carried the ball an amazing 17 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was the only offense Carolina (3-2-1) could muster all game. The running backs barely averaged above 2 yards per carry and behind his throwing arm and his powerful legs, the Panthers managed to escape Cincinnati with a 37-37 tie.

Three days later during his weekly press conference on Wednesday, the first topic broached with Newton was his 17 rushes.

"I feel great," he said. "But it would’ve felt better if we could have found a way to win."

To put things into context, in the previous 52 games, Newton has hit double-digit carries in a game just 10 times, and never more than 14. The Cincinnati game also was only the second time that he’s rushed for more than 100 yards, though this one was more difficult. The other instance included a 72-yard run. His longest run Sunday was 12 yards.

So, did Newton run so much because his ankle finally feels better? Was it because the Panthers’ running game has been near the bottom of the NFL this season?

"The rhythm of the game takes a different beat each and every week," he said. "The quarterback runs were there and was available. I didn’t want to let my teammates downs with not having the juice to keep going. When I looked up at the end of the game, I didn’t even realize I had 17 rushes. But if that’s what it takes to win, I’m willing to do it all over again. And I think anybody else would have that same mentality.

" … We’ve got a lot of warriors on this team that’s very resilient and with me being one of the leaders of this team, it’s good to lead by example."

Obviously running Newton 17 times a game is not a best-case scenario. Not only does that mean he gets hit the 17 times he runs the ball, but add to that sacks, quarterback hits and knockdowns and it could get into the mid-20s.

That’s not a recipe for keeping the quarterback healthy, even if he is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds.

Now the question is: Will this be an ongoing thing with Newton running the ball early and often in each game?

"I hope I just keep progressing," he said. "If my number’s called, I just try to make the most of each and every play. … As an offense, it’s our job to put up points. No matter the situation or what the task is at hand, our responsibility is to do whatever is asked. That’s what coach always tells us as a team, ‘Just do your responsibility and perfect it.’"