Cam Newton said it. After Ryan Kalil said it. After Greg Olsen said it.
They all agreed there's something about the no-huddle offense that seems to give this group a spark. So after the Panthers’ came back from a 17-point fourth-quarter hole against the Eagles, the natural question for head coach Ron Rivera on Monday was why not go up-tempo more often?
“If you go three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, next thing you know is your defense is constantly out there. It can wear your defense out,” Rivera said. “It most certainly is a team thing and I think a lot of it is situational and by rhythm.”
Sunday in Philadelphia, the situation was dictated by “sleepwalking” through the first two quarters. At least, that’s how offensive coordinator Norv Turner described it. So during halftime, Turner decided it was time to hurry things up. But in the third quarter, the offense had the ball just once. That 10-play drive sputtered out after the Panthers’ got as far as the Philadelphia 33-yard line.
Then the fourth quarter happened.
The offense seemingly flipped a switch, totaling 226 yards and 21 points in the final frame. 201 of those yards came from Newton’s arm, which connected on 16 of 22 throws with a pair of touchdowns. He also threw in a 2-point conversion.
Clearly, the increased tempo helped him get into a zone while also limiting the substitutions the Eagles’ could make on their dangerous defensive line.
According to Sportsradar, Newton is now 12-for-19 (63.2 percent) with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 128.0 passer rating from the no-huddle this season. His numbers when huddling: 124-for-189 (65.6 percent) with nine scores, four interceptions and a 91.2 rating.
Zoom out farther, back to when Sportsradar’s no-huddle stats begin in 2015, and you get this: In his past three-plus seasons from the huddle, Newton has completed 58.7 percent of his passes with a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 90.0 passer rating. From the no-huddle, he has a 55.4 completion rate with a 3.2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 85.4 passer rating.
Make of those numbers what you will. Some will see a huge difference, especially in this year’s small sample size. But don’t expect the Panthers to look markedly different anytime soon.
“Circumstances dictate a lot of things that happen more so than anything else,” Rivera said. “Because there have been situations where we come out and started a game in no-huddle and (went) three-and-out.
“Do we need to look at it? Most certainly. But I don't think that's going to drive who we are as an offense.”
When Rivera handed the game ball to Newton inside a joyous locker room Sunday night, Carolina’s coach told his team, “Our guy in the second half didn’t flinch. He wanted the ball every chance he got.”
A day later, Rivera made an eye-opening analogy, saying that trait in Newton is one he’s seen in another superstar.
“He'll come up and say, ‘Coach, put it in my hands, Coach. Trust me,’” Rivera said. “It goes back to a little something I learned from Michael Jordan when we were in Chicago.
“Michael used to say, ‘Certain guys want the ball when it's crunch-time. Other guys just don't seem to come off the picks the way they're supposed to.’ I've told that to Cam, and Cam has always wanted the ball.”
The biggest fourth-quarter rally in franchise history was the 15th time Newton has finished a comeback in the fourth-quarter or overtime, according to Pro Football Reference. That’s one more than a guy like Packers great Aaron Rodgers, yet Newton still doesn’t seem to have a wide reputation as a quarterback who comes up big in the clutch.
“He gets overlooked because of his style of play. It's not a prolific style,” Rivera said. “He runs the ball extremely well. He's not a pure, pure pocket passer, although there are elements of his game where he plays very well from the pocket. He's good on the move. But again, I think the success he has in the fourth quarter with the comebacks is a lot about his desire wanting to win.”
Newton’s most important throw was a fourth-and-10 conversion he somehow got off to Torrey Smith. But the wideout paid for turning a 12-yard pass into a 35-yard gain.
“He hit the ground pretty hard with his knee,” Rivera said. “I don't think there's anything structurally wrong, but he's going to see the doctors this afternoon just to make sure everything's OK. The first indication I got last night was he took a pretty good shot when he hit the ground and he did have a little swelling.”
The Panthers’ other main injury concern coming off the win is defensive end Mario Addison, who played only 18 snaps after injuring his back in the first quarter.
“Mario's pretty stiff. He took a pretty good shot in the lower back,” Rivera said. “Hopefully it'll loosen up by Tuesday or Wednesday.”