Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is always going to fight the battle of perception vs. reality with some, because people are hesitant to change strong opinions voiced in the past.
But his teammates saw a different player yesterday, as he closed out the Saints with an impressive last-minute drive to clinch a playoff berth for the Panthers.
“He just said, ‘Let’s get it done,’ ” Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said, via Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “He went into his focus mode. He wasn’t the jovial self that he can sometimes be.”
What he was, was spotless, at a time when he had to be.
Newton hadn’t played well throughout the day, though the combination of torrential rain and the absence of Steve Smith mitigated that a bit (Drew Brees wasn’t very sharp either).
But with 55 seconds remaining, down three, with no timeouts, and at his own 35, he moved the Panthers quickly into position for the game-winning touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon.
The Panthers and Newton have a lot of work to do. They didn’t convert a third down the entire game, and could struggle against playoff defenses if Smith is out any length of time.
But they’ve got a quarterback who is showing he can be clutch too. We already knew he was talented, but adding the ability to win like yesterday to his arsenal will make him even more dangerous, and could make the Panthers contenders for years to come.