CHARLOTTE – The most impressive part about the first three games of Cam Newton's 2018 season was his improved decision making.
Entering Sunday's game against the New York Giants, the Panthers quarterback had thrown only one interception (a ball that bounced off running back's C.J. Anderson's hands) with a 99.7 passer rating.
"If we can continue to be real good (taking care of the ball), we'll give ourselves a chance to win every week," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said earlier in the week.
The Panthers didn't protect the ball against the Giants in the second half, and it nearly cost them.
Newton was picked off twice - both passes intended for rookie tight end Ian Thomas. Newton also nearly lost a fumble that fortunately went out of bounds.
"It was such a sub-par game as far as production on my part," said Newton, who completed 21-of-35 passes (after completing eight of his first nine) for 237 yards with two touchdowns and two picks for a 75.5 rating. "But you're going to have games like this."
The first interception occurred on second-and-20 from the New York 26 yard-line late in the third quarter. Newton double-clutched and tried to hit Thomas down the seam, but safety Curtis Riley was all over it.
The next interception took place on third-and-8 from the New York 43-yard line. Carolina was leading 27-16 at the time, and the Panthers were in prime position to salt the game away with another scoring drive.
Instead, another miscue gave the Giants life.
Newton again tried to connect with Thomas, but the rookie stopped running when it appeared Newton was looking to lead him. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was the beneficiary, hauling in the pick and returning it 29 yards to the Carolina 34. The Giants found the end zone two plays later.
"A couple decisions I know he would like to have back," head coach Ron Rivera said. "One of the interceptions was not his fault – a little miscommunication in terms of the route that was run."
Newton, however, took full responsibility.
"It was a lack of focus," Newton said. "I've got to be better."
In the end, Newton did engineer what goes down as his 16th career game-winning drive.
Trailing 31-30 with 1:08 on the clock and the ball at his own 25-yard line, Newton completed a 20-yard pass to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore. Then, two carries for 10 yards from Christian McCaffrey was all kicker Graham Gano needed to take care of the rest.
"A wise man once told me that a great quarterback is only as good as his kicker," said Newton, who jumped on the pile of teammates mobbing Gano after he made the game-winning 63-yard kick. "Graham put the whole team on his back today. Well, on his toe today.
"Gano made a lot of wrongs right today."