CHARLOTTE – As the years have gone by, quarterback Cam Newton has long maintained that his legs are his “edge.”
On Sunday, they were the difference in Carolina edging Minnesota for a 31-24 victory.
With the Vikings having just tied the game at 24-24 with 3:07 remaining, it was Newton who put the Panthers in position to win with a 62-yard run off the left side on second-and-5.
The zone-read fake to running back Christian McCaffrey occupied defensive end Everson Griffen while left tackle Matt Kalil blocked linebacker Anthony Barr to clear the path for Newton to get to the second level.
At that point, Newton stuck his right foot in the ground and juked left, leaving safety Andrew Sendejo flailing helplessly at Newton’s feet. Carolina’s quarterback was off to the races until cornerback Tre Waynes tracked him down at the Minnesota 8-yard line. Three plays later, Stewart went up and over the pile for the go-ahead score.
“Simple zone-read,” Newton said. “With C-Mac and Stew, those guys are gravitating a lot of attention in the backfield and we are just trying to attack the defense with a lot of misdirection to make them hesitate.
“When that happens things, are good.”
In this case, it was great.
A 62-yard run against the league’s second-ranked rush defense in a critical moment like that?
“A huge play,” center Ryan Kalil said. “I think there are (only) a few guys in the league that can do that and he’s one of them.”
Same goes for his 18-yard touchdown pass to cap the opening drive of the third quarter.
It was third-and-7 and Newton couldn’t find anyone open. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was bearing down off the right side anticipating a sack with Griffen converging from the left side. But Newton did what he does. He instinctively jolted backward and the Minnesota linemen got tangled up with one another.
Newton took the time he created to survey the field. That’s when he locked eyes with Funchess.
“I saw the void in the defense and I made eye contact with him and just told him to throw it over there,” Funchess explained.
Newton obliged, zipping a pass off his back foot that went over linebacker Eric Kendricks and into the waiting hands of Funchess to give Carolina a 21-13 lead.
“Everything I was told not to do, I did,” Newton said of the typically risky decision to throw across his body. “Guys are just out there playing football.”
Running, throwing, improvising – it’s all part of Newton’s unique playing style. And all of it was need to earn a crucial victory over the Vikings.
“He needed to do whatever it took to keep his team in the game,” Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He needed to make plays, and he made them.”