CHARLOTTE – Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career day on Sunday.
His 143.4 passer rating was the highest rating of his three-year career. It also tied the team record set by Jake Delhomme.
Newton finished 20-of-26 for 242 yards and three passing touchdowns. He also rushed for a 7-yard score.
"I think it was one of his top two or three (games)," head coach Ron Rivera said. "As far as a complete game, it was one of the top two or three. It really was."
Rivera was particularly pleased with Newton's third-quarter execution, which helped Carolina extend its 14-3 halftime lead. Newton completed 10-of-12 passes in the second half, and the Panthers scored 21 consecutive points to put the game out of reach.
"I liked the play calling coming out for the third quarter," Rivera said. "Cam was instantly engaged. He ran the ball, he had to make decisions on the reads. I think that really helped him."
CRITICAL STRETCH: With his team standing at 2-3 and a home game against the St. Louis Rams (3-3) up next, Rivera was asked if the next few games are a pivotal stretch to ensure the Panthers are competing for a playoff spot in November and December.
"It most certainly is," Rivera said. "If you win them, you become instantly relevant. But as I've said, every game is important. I don't want to get ahead of ourselves and say, 'Ok, if we don't win these next two we are out of it.' Right now there is a lot of parity."
THE Q FACTOR: The Panthers weren't sure who would be healthy enough to play alongside free safety Mike Mitchell against the Vikings, but they have to feel like the position is in good shape going forward.
Rookie Robert Lester, who had an interception in each of his first two games, was inactive with a hamstring injury. Enter veteran Quintin Mikell, who hadn't played since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2.
"The toughness of our guys, I just love it," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "We're hoping to get Robert back soon, and 'Q' came back for us and really gutted it out. We didn't know we were going to get him back, and he gutted it out. That's big for us – guys playing not at 100 percent."
The secondary, however, performed at 100 percent, with Mitchell recording a pair of interceptions and Mikell adding five tackles.
"For the longest time we've been hearing that the secondary is the weakness, but we showed that we've got some playmakers back there," Mikell said. "Obviously, Mike made some big plays, but Captain (Munnerlyn) has been playing great all year, and Josh (Thomas) and other guys have been stepping up and making plays across the board."
CB UPDATE: Rookie cornerback Melvin White suffered what Rivera called a head injury against the Vikings, and he was evaluated by doctors on Monday.
"He's seeing the doctor right now," Rivera said. "He's going through the protocol."
Second-year cornerback Josh Norman was inactive for the second consecutive game, and McDermott addressed where the former fifth-round draft choice stands.
"It's a numbers deal right now," McDermott said. "Josh has done a good job for us, and we have a lot of confidence in Josh. He's a young player. There's a process of development that has to take place. Josh is going through that right now. He's working extremely hard at it."