CHARLOTTE – Injuries and the desire to prevent future injuries have slowed quarterback Cam Newton's ability to run. Enterprising defenses have slowed his ability to run.
But none of it has slowed his ability to move forward when it comes to becoming a complete quarterback.
"I think he's throwing the ball as good if not better than he ever has since I've been here, and that's saying a lot because he's always been pretty productive throwing the ball," tight end Greg Olsen said. "As he gets healthier and continues to get his legs under him, that's going to be pretty special."
The statistics certainly bear Olsen out. Newton's passer rating of 98.2 is in the top 10 among the NFL's current starting quarterbacks and is nearly 10 points higher than last year's career best. His 63.8-percent completion rate is also better than his previous season numbers, and he hasn't thrown an interception in his first three games.
The eye test is even more telling.
"Some of the throws he made out there today were unbelievable," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said after Sunday's loss to Baltimore Ravens.
When the Panthers lose like they have the last two weeks, the narrative shifts more toward what the quarterback isn't doing rather than what he is doing – it's just human nature. No one seemed to mind when the Panthers handled Detroit in Newton's first start of the season in Week 2 that Newton rushed for just 19 yards on four attempts. But it's been a hot topic since he combined for 14 yards on four attempts in the two losses.
"These past couple of games have been rather unique," Newton said. "When the opportunity has been there to run, I've tried to make the most of it, but I'm not going to put myself in a vulnerable situation by just running when the defense isn't dictating it or the play is not set up for me to run.
"It's not a different mindset – it's just how the cards have been dealt. I can't tell the defense, 'Hey, guys, go over there so I can run right up the middle.' It doesn't work that way. It's not Madden."
Unlike a video game, Newton has been dealing with real injuries. There's the recovery from offseason ankle surgery that has taken longer than anyone expected, complicated by a preseason rib injury that cut into his already curtailed preparation time. To boot, there's the normal wear and tear that every NFL game inflicts.
"His toughness is something that doesn't get talked about enough," Olsen said. "It's easy to talk about all the other stuff he does well, but his toughness is one of his greatest qualities."
Newton also is well on his way to being recognized for another of his greatest qualities – his sometimes underappreciated ability to throw the football.
"I look at myself as a pocket passer with the ability to run," Newton said. "My body is mending, slowly but surely, and that's giving me a lot of confidence when I am thinking about running the football and throwing the football as well.
"Hopefully I will be able to display my running talents soon. If my running can make a big impact on the game, who knows? Either way, I'm going to continue to try to protect the football and keep the offense moving forward toward the last rectangle on the field."