CHARLOTTE – Close games haven't often been kind to quarterback Cam Newton in his first few NFL seasons, so when the Panthers took possession trailing with less than seven minutes to play Monday night, it wouldn't have been surprising if Newton looked tense.
Instead, he was the one breaking up any anxiety.
"I don't know if the camera caught it, but Cam was smiling," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "He kept everybody calm in the huddle. He was real poised."
That poise paid off all night and especially on that final, fateful drive, when Newton navigated the offense 83 yards in 13 plays. He capped it with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn with 59 seconds left, the game-winner in a 24-20 triumph over the New England Patriots.
"He put a drive together that will probably be remembered for a long time around here," said linebacker Thomas Davis, who recorded 17 tackles. "The offense stepped up big. Cam played tremendous. He didn't force things, and he put the ball on the money."
Newton was the picture of efficiency in a game that featured one of the masters of efficiency in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Newton completed 19-of-28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, good for a sparkling passer rating of 125.4
While Carolina netted total 300 yards for the game, their four scoring drives actually gained more than that - a combined 316 yards. They also consumed 24:58.
"We had to value each and every opportunity that we got, and we did," Newton said. "The offense continued to keep battling, to keep fighting to put points up on the board."
Newton's arm got the Panthers into the end zone three times, but his legs put them in position to score. He got the game-winning drive off the ground with a 15-yard scramble on third-and-6, but the run that had everyone talking was his 14-yarder on third-and-7 early in the second half to keep alive a drive that ended with a touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
"Only he can do something like that," Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said. "It adds an extra element that people have to defend and are struggling to defend."
On the play, Newton somehow backtracked away from four would-be tacklers in the backfield, freezing two of them with one of his moves to open the path for the run. A yardage tracker that ESPN employed estimated that Newton covered 75 yards of ground on the play.
"Seventy-five yards?" wide receiver Steve Smith asked. "It only counts for 14. But that 75 yards that he ran only counted for 14 was 75 yards on fantastic-ness.
"It was unbelievable. He's a superior athlete. That's why he was the No. 1 overall pick."
Newton also was picked No. 1 because of the knack he showed at Auburn for pulling out close games, a skill he brought back to life on the Monday Night Football stage for all to see.
"We've got a lot of guys in that locker room that are very relentless, very determined and resilient," Newton said. "We could have easily given up at the end, folded up tent and closed shop. But we didn't. We kept fighting,
"I feel extremely comfortable at the end of the game knowing that I'm going to get protection that I can give guys a chance. All I have to do is give guys a chance, and you see what happens when that happens."