CINCINNATI – Through his first four and a half games of the 2014 season, Cam Newton wasn't the same player fans had grown accustomed to watching.
Offseason ankle surgery and a preseason rib injury limited his running ability, turning him essentially into a pocket passer.
"Everybody is questioning how much am I going to run, or if I'm going to run, or why I'm not running," Newton said.
He's been impressive from the pocket this season. He's been as accurate as ever, completing 61.7 percent of his passes. But Newton's dynamic rushing ability is a vital part of both his identity and the identity of the Panthers offense.
And in the second half of Sunday's game against the Bengals, the dual-threat Newton returned in a big way.
"Everything pointed to his health," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I've said it from the beginning – we are not going to put the young man at risk. He's our franchise quarterback. We waited, we took our time, we did what the doctors told us, and he did everything he was asked to do in preparation for today."
Midway through the third quarter, Newton had rushed three times for nine yards. Then, on third-and-three, Newton kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone for a 12-yard score.
It was a vintage Newton touchdown run – one we hadn't seen in quite a while. At that moment it became clear Newton was beginning to feel like his old self. So the Panthers continued to call his number in the ground game with designed runs and read-options.
"When you pull it time and time again and keep getting numerous yards, you have to keep calling it," Newton explained. "That's just the simplicity of football. Coming into this game, I didn't think I was going to run the ball as much. But like I said, that's my attitude — anything it takes to win, I'm willing to do."
Newton, who wasn't sacked once, finished with a career-high 17 carries for a team-leading 107 yards and one touchdown. He also completed 29-of-46 passes for 284 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It marked his 11th career game with at least two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
"It's the culmination of all the work he's put in," Rivera said. "He was building to this. He was preparing for this moment, and he was phenomenal."
Newton had rushed 14 times for 42 yards total in his four previous games. His rediscovered rushing ability undoubtedly makes Carolina more dangerous offensively.
"Cam brings that explosive element to the offense," center Ryan Kalil said. "He's getting more comfortable, the ankle is getting better and he can do more of that stuff. We've had it in (the playbook) since the beginning, but we've been waiting to see how he feels. It's one of those things that will keep getting better.
"When you add that element it's just one more thing (defenses) have to worry about. That's part of our identity and part of what we've become. Having some that back is huge."
And having so much success on the ground is huge for Newton's confidence.
"Being able to run like I did today puts it assured that (I'm) getting closer to 100 percent," Newton said. "I'd feel even better if we had come away with the win."