MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Cam Newton's first snap of the game had him thinking about how his mom likes to remind him that he only has one set of teeth.
His final snap of the game allowed him to flash those pearly whites.
Newton, who prefers chewing gum to a mouthpiece, was bloodied after he bit his tongue on a hard hit to open the game. But he didn't figuratively bite his tongue from there, continuing to display the kind of leadership the Panthers needed while helping rally Carolina to a 20-16 victory at the Miami Dolphins.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence the last seven, eight weeks," head coach Ron Rivera said after Newton rallied the Panthers to their seventh consecutive victory. "That gives everyone else confidence."
Newton, who led the Panthers to a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes for the second consecutive game, said the march last Monday to beat New England had no impact on Sunday's drive that ended when Newton hooked up with tight end Greg Olsen for a 1-yard score with 43 seconds left.
But while Newton said there was no direct carryover, it's obvious that the third-year quarterback has learned valuable lessons from countless close losses his first two NFL seasons.
"A great team win today," Newton said. "We didn't play our best football, didn't play Carolina Panther football early on.
"The play that we put together in the first half was not the standard of play that we hold ourselves to. But we came out in the second half, made our adjustments, and guys just made plays."
Newton's first play of the game produced a first down, but the shot he took from defensive end Cameron Wake showed that the Dolphins came to play. Newton didn't miss any action, but the Panthers took timeouts after each of the next two plays.
"I bit my tongue and it was numb for a minute, but it didn't have any effect on me as far as game play," Newton said. "I wanted to make sure my tongue was still intact. That was probably the most important thing because off topic I was reading about horror stories of football and how a guy swallowed his tongue, so I didn't want that to happen. I had to feel around for it for a minute, and I felt it so I was good."
Whether it was coincidence or not – Rivera said he thought the play "spooked" the offense – the offense struggled like it rarely had during the winning streak. Newton completed just 6-of-14 passes for 53 yards to start as the Panthers burned through their first seven possessions, six days after being a model of efficiency while possessing the ball just six times the whole game against New England.
But just before halftime, the offense got its bearings. Newton completed 4-of-5 passes for 47 yards over the final minute to set up a field goal.
"In a stingy game like this where you lack momentum, you just look for some type of play or something that can get you going," Newton said. "We got some points right before the half that really encouraged us."
Newton's numbers were similar in the second half, but when the Panthers needed a play most, Newton consistently delivered. He kept the first drive out of halftime alive with an 8-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 40, and he eventually capped the march with a 5-yard touchdown run.
And on the fateful final drive, Newton delivered a strike in traffic to Steve Smith on a fourth-and-10 from the Carolina 20 and later picked up 8 yards on a third-and-1 keeper that got the Panthers past midfield and close to the red zone once a late-hit penalty was tacked on.
"After that fourth-and-10 you kind of felt the momentum drift in favor of us," Newton said. "That's when the tide really shifted.
"We played a good defense, on the road in a hostile environment. It's great to see our guys and myself respond."