Cam Newton's comeback falls short, but provided special moments

Cam Newton rushing touchdown

CHARLOTTE — There has been a mythical quality to every step in Cam Newton's return to Carolina, from quiet moments in his old home when he signed last week, to the jubilation of his debut in Arizona.

Sunday's game against Washington promised to add a layer, and it did, if not for the reasons that seemed obvious.

With his former coach and the general manager who drafted him on hand, with so many emotions from his first stint with the Panthers on everyone's mind, with a homecoming for fans who cheered him for so long, it was another time of his life that stood out to Newton.

When he scored a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Panthers a lead, he took the ball back to midfield instead of handing it to a fan as he normally does. And there, he posed as he has before, and celebrated with his Superman pose.

But this time, it meant something different.

Newton changed the tone of his post-game press conference by calling back to his arrest at the University of Florida, which he has referenced in the past.

"Today was a special day for me, for more reasons than one," Newton said. "It was my resurrection day. Not that I am sure a lot of people know, November 21st is a very special day for me. I took a big L in my life, I feel like. It was a big scar that ended up being my biggest star. I was incarcerated today when I was in the University of Florida, and this day is always significant of where I came from.

"I was just going to enjoy the moment, still am going to enjoy the moment. I think my life could be, who knows where right now if the judge ruled, the way she did, he did, I'm not sure. Man, God had favor over my life and that's the big picture. The realization of things that you could control, you know, I am enjoying the moment and we just, . . . I have to be better."

Newton could be, as there appeared to be few limits on what they could call based on how new he is to this system. But he was just short of exceptional in his return to Bank of America Stadium.

On his 11th day as a Panther this time, still learning the playbook, he completed 21-of-27 passes for 189 yards with two touchdowns and a 120.5 passer rating, his best in a Panther uniform since a home win over the Buccaneers midway through the 2018 season. Newton also ran for 46 yards and a touchdown, allowing him to build on records he already held (for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, and games with a rushing and passing touchdown).

He also played every snap, though the Panthers had P.J. Walker ready to come in, if Newton found himself in a spot he hadn't prepared himself for.

That never arrived, but the moment presented itself to him late.

Newton had a chance to make the comeback perfect, with 1:50 left on the clock, and a chance to win with a touchdown — 75 yards between him and yet another seemingly unlikely layer to his comeback story.

But Sunday's story ended with a failed fourth-down attempt when he was sacked for a loss — Washington's only sack all day.

"I thought Cam was excellent," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said. "He managed everything. Maybe one communication error in the first half. He got through the progressions. The throw he made to Christian (McCaffrey, for a fourth-quarter touchdown to tie the game) was elite I thought.

"For where we are, for being a week into it, I thought he did a nice job."

Newton also added a jolt of electricity to the stadium, from his pre-game warmups to introductions to moments throughout the game, when the place responded the way it had so many times.

Wide receiver DJ Moore put it simply: "(Newton) played the best that he could. He always gives us an opportunity to win. We had an opportunity to go down and win, we just came up short."

And while he has subdued after the game because of the result, Newton admitted the day was emotional for him from start to finish.

"It felt like my chest was about to explode a couple of times, but all in all, it was warming," he said. "I just appreciate the fans just for coming out and showing their support. For everybody who, these last couple of days, have just been overwhelming.

"My prayer was pretty much that I hope I could just keep it in the road, man. But I wanted to enjoy the moment today. It didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, or we wanted it to, but yet we can learn from it."

And while it might not have been the perfect ending, Newton showed signs Sunday that he's capable of taking the journey in a few directions no one could have expected.

View photos from Sunday's Week 11 game between Carolina and Washington at Bank of America Stadium.

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