The Carolina Panthers saved their most impressive victory of the season for Cam Newton’s return engagement, as they took advantage of the opposition’s weakened state in a 34-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina used a limited package with Newton, which included mostly run & pass option plays to keep Arizona’s defense off balance. Haason Reddick forced a sack-fumble on their first defensive possession, and used the short field to strike first on the scoreboard with a one-yard touchdown rush from Newton.
The Panthers, to a man, all said that Newton’s presence brought the team a jolt.
“He came in, he put the work in on Thursday, Friday, Saturday to learn a package – we kind of came up with some things that he knew,” Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule said. “He’s a veteran player, so his mind is ‘Hey, on this play– I’ve run this 100 times – and it’s called this now.’ I think the credit goes to Joe (Panthers Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady) and Sean (Panthers QBs coach Sean Ryan) as well. Cam put the work in with them and there was a good feeling down in that quarterback room.”
“Yes, for sure. From the moment bro got there. It’s like a dream come true,” Carolina wide receiver Robby Anderson said. “To come to Carolina, and for him to come back, it’s like a dream come true.”
Newton called his return game to the Panthers, “impeccable”.
“I wouldn’t even call it the new me, but I’m big on energy and that feeling on the sideline collectively as a team started with PJ, and the offense going out there… and the defense getting the turnover. That’s a combination of a great team win on the road,” Newton said. “That was a great team that we played and just for it to come to full circle, offensively, defensively, special teams, it was great work.”
Reddick feasted against in his first game against his former team, collecting 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits.
“It felt good, real good I’m not going to lie. I’m really happy to come back here and get a W after everything I’ve been through here, everything that happened this offseason,” Reddick said. “For us to go out and dominate and play a game like that, I’m extremely happy.”
Arizona acted aggressively for the entire game missing on three 4th-Down conversions, including one on their second first quarter drive. Carolina took advantage of more great field position, with Newton culminating the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson.
Carolina’s defense smothered the Arizona offense, forcing a Colt McCoy interception on the Cardinals’ third drive. The Panthers added the first of four Zane Gonzalez field goals at the end of the ensuing drive, and the home team never got closer in the contest.
PJ Walker earned his second career win as a starter, completing 22-of-29 passes for 167 yards with one interception. Newton attempted just four passes and three runs, but it was easy to see the dynamic force that he can bring to catalyze the offense.
“He’s a total team-guy. He came into my office, and he told me, ‘This is all going to be about winning.’ That’s what it was: winning,” Rhule said. “I felt like that’s who he was. I think the challenge to the rest of our team was: it’s not about one guy, it’s about everybody. Anytime you play defense the way we played it today, you have a pretty good chance. Obviously, we’re excited to have Cam here – don’t get me wrong, we’re excited. I kind of knew he would bring that energy, and he did.”
Christian McCaffrey, who had to elude concussion protocol during the game, touched the ball 23 times for his highest workload since returning to action. McCaffrey said having Newton back, just for his red-zone execution is lethal.
“I think it just gives the defense another thing that they have to prepare for,” McCaffrey said. “He’s a special player in every way. It definitely gives different looks for a defense to have to prepare for.”
Rhule was asked after the game if this was the most “complete” effort in the 2021 campaign.
“I don’t know, it was more complete than last week – that’s kind of how short my memory is. Itwas a step forward from last week,” Rhule said. “I know we’ve had some good moments. It was a trying week, there was a lot of work being done. I think anytime your backup quarterback comes in and plays the way he played, that gives you a chance. A lot of guys rose up around him.”
The win for Carolina (5-5) put them back into possession of the final playoff spot in the NFC with seven games to play, with the week ahead focused on getting Newton up to speed to potentially start next week.
Newton’s first home game in his Panthers redux comes next Sunday against the Washington Football Team (3-6) off of Washington’s win over Tampa Bay.