CHARLOTTE – Once again last week, Cam Newton found himself under the knife, this time to have his wisdom teeth removed.
"I've been under the scope so much this season," Newton said. "Surgery is surgery."
Sunday, without his wisdom teeth but with plenty of wisdom, Newton's surgical execution helped the Panthers rally to a pivotal victory.
"We knew coming into the season we would face a lot of adversity on the field as well as off the field," Newton said. "The thing that stays true for us is we have a lot of relentless guys on this team that refuse to give up.
"That puts a good feeling in your heart, knowing you've got guys that are playing and will continue to give all they have to play. Guys could have given up when we were down by 14, but we didn't. That's what you like to see."
Newton epitomized that attitude in a 31-24 victory over the Chicago Bears, a game that required a big comeback after the Panthers fell behind 21-7 and were a chip-shot field goal from falling behind by 17 points.
From there, Newton was "on point" - as tight end Greg Olsen said – hooking up with Olsen for two touchdowns to key the rally. Newton showed the same sharpness he's displayed most of the season in the passing game, and he got a touch more involved in the running game.
His real highlight in the run game (he rushed for just 9 yards on six carries) actually came as a blocker. On a reverse to wide receiver Philly Brown midway through the second quarter, Newton threw a block on linebacker Lance Briggs to help Brown pick up eight yards.
Newton's description was even more compelling than the play itself.
"As I turned around, I looked. I said, 'Oh a cornerback, that'll be an easy block,' but he was fast," Newton said. "He was just running too fast, so I knew I couldn't get him without a block in the back or something. So I turned back inside and saw Lance Briggs.
"I had to put extra groceries in my bag, close my eyes and just give him everything I had. So I hit him. Boom! He wobbles, and it was kind of Goliath. He took about six or seven steps and he finally fell."
Newton said his block fired up the offense – for about a minute.
"A couple plays later I threw a pick, so that wasn't good," Newton said. "It kind of brought me back down to reality."
The reality was that was Newton's first interception of the season, and it appeared to put Carolina in deep trouble. Already down 21-7 before missing out on that scoring chance, the Bears flipped the field and got into prime position for a field goal, but Robbie Gould missed the mark from 35 yards.
From that moment, Newton played winning football.
After the missed kick, Newton directed the offense 75 yards to get within a touchdown before halftime. After halftime, he directed the offense 86 yards on its first drive to tie the score.
On those drives – both of which featured no-huddle sets - Newton connected on 8-of-12 passes for 124 yards.
"He takes it over," center Ryan Kalil said of Newton in the no-huddle look. "He does a good job of recognizing the defense, and he does a good job in keeping it going.
"I thought obviously we were able to get into more of a rhythm. Not that the huddle stuff wasn't effective either, but for whatever reason we were able to keep the momentum going and put them back on their heels and finish."
When it came time to finish off the comeback, Newton was just as efficient with a more traditional offensive approach.
After the defense gave the offense the ball 23 yards short of the end zone with 4:18 left in a tie game, Newton and the Panthers executed in the red zone – a problem area entering Sunday – to pull out the victory.
"I'm excited about how the whole team responded," Newton said. "We got punched in the mouth early, but we stopped the bleeding and kept it going.
"We're going to need that exact same type of play and that mentality moving forward for us to be successful."