PHILADELPHIA – After leading his team to a 30-22 victory over the Eagles in his Monday Night Football debut, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton modestly classified his performance as effective game management.
"As a quarterback, your No. 1 goal is to be a game manager," Newton said. "I was just trying to take everything that the defense gave me – through the air and on the ground. Anything to keep those chains moving."
Sure, Newton was a game manager. He also was a game-changer. For Philadelphia's defense, he was a nightmare.
Newton finished with a passer rating of 125.0 (his second highest of the season) after completing 18-of-28 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 14 times for 52 yards and two scores.
"He made some huge plays. A couple of third-down scrambles, just making things happen downfield and converting with his legs," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That's what he brings. Nothing's open and we (receivers) may not have run the greatest routes, but he can just make something happen. That's hard to defend."
Added head coach Ron Rivera: "He was very decisive, and that's when you see his ability, his athleticism come through."
In recent weeks, Rivera and the coaching staff have adjusted the offense to help bring out more of that dynamic ability.
In hindsight, Rivera revealed he and the offensive coaches may have relied too heavily on the second-year quarterback and his unique skill set earlier in the season.
"We put a lot on his plate early in the year, and we've taken some of it back," Rivera said. "He's reacting to that very well. The last few weeks he's been outstanding, and he's giving us chances to win."
The zone-read has remained a part of the offense, but the Panthers have relied on a more traditional power rushing attack – one where Newton simply turns around and hands the ball off instead of deciding whether or not to keep it himself.
Long-developing vertical pass plays have been utilized less frequently, and quick passes, screens and slants have been called more often.
The alterations are allowing more players to get involved, and Newton isn't being relied upon to do all of the playmaking.
"We spread it out among the other players," Rivera said. "He really didn't want us to take (some) off his plate. He wanted more. We had to give him an opportunity to take a breath once in a while."
Wide receiver Steve Smith believes it's helped.
"Cam is not trying to carry everything," Smith explained. "He's just relaxing.
"He seemed comfortable (tonight) and threw some great passes."
Would Newton consider Monday's performance his best of the season?
"Absolutely not," he said.
Not with five games remaining to be even better.
"I think my best game is still yet to come."