CHARLOTTE – Even with all the impossible things Cam Newton has done near the goal line in his career, this one didn't seem possible.
On third-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the Panthers looking to take their first lead of the game before halftime, Newton scrambled. The goal line was in his sights, but there was no way he could make it this time.
"That's Cam. He already thinks he's Superman," said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, watching along with everyone else as Newton launched himself from the 2-yard line. "I knew he was going to take off. I was just glad he got in."
At takeoff time, Falcons linebacker Deion Jones dove to try to prevent Newton from going airborne – the same Deion Jones who sent Newton into the concussion protocol last year when Newton didn't see him coming near the goal line in Atlanta. But Newton powered through, launched himself through the air and reached the ball high and far toward the white line, barely crossing it before cornerback Desmond Trufant knocked the ball out of his hands.
Wide receiver Brenton Bersin recovered in the end zone, but it didn't matter. Somehow, some way, Newton had scored a touchdown.
"This was one of those games that I wasn't caring about body ligaments or whatever," Newton said. "I'm just trying to win a football game."
That attitude propelled Newton into the end zone and propelled the Panthers to a 20-17 victory over the Falcons, the team Newton grew up cheering for as an Atlanta area resident and the team that swept Carolina last year on its way to a Super Bowl.
Newton said in the days leading up to Sunday's game that his offseasons are better after the Panthers beat the Falcons, but this victory improves the chances that Newton and Co. will stave off the offseason and earn a postseason berth.
For all the ups and downs the offense has endured so far, Newton's impossible up-and-over helped improve the Panthers to 6-3 - matching last season's win total - while dropping the reigning NFC champions to 4-4.
"We did what we had to do to find a way to get a great team win today that we needed," said Newton, who has now recorded three of his top five career rushing perfomances at the expense of Atlanta. "It was extremely great for us."
About 15 minutes before Newton's touchdown run in real time, the Panthers were in trouble. The Falcons led 10-0 and were on the edge of field goal range with just five minutes left in the first half. The Panthers offense had vacillated between having trouble moving the ball and having trouble protecting the ball.
Newton, however, acted as if nothing was wrong. Saying that even if he had to "fake it" he was determined to keep the energy level up, the offense eventually turned the corner and found the end zone twice before halftime to seize control.
"We just had to find ways to be more complete in a drive," Newton said. "We had some big plays that were taken away or negated, but all in all we did what we had to."
And indeed, by any means necessary, Newton was going to get this offense going. The Falcons mostly contained Newton the passer in Carolina's first game since trading away wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin – Newton hit on 13-of-24 passes for 137 yards – but they couldn't corral Newton the runner. He gained 86 yards on the ground, and the Panthers didn't lose ground on the NFC South-leading Saints.
"Yeah, we just lost a great player but nevertheless, the Titanic still has to go," Newton said. "We just wanted to come out and execute the game plan.
"Knowing that we had a great team win, celebrate, we've got an extra day with this Monday night game (against the Dolphins) coming up, and we've just got to be honed in and dialed in."
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Falcons by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooters Andrew Dye and Jamey Price.