CHARLOTTE – This past Sunday, Cam Newton caught both the NFC and AFC offensive players of the week in action.
Newton huddled up with running back Jonathan Stewart as his teammate piled up 103 rushing yards and piled into the end zone three times to help the Panthers put up more points than anyone all season against the Vikings.
Then Newton huddled around a television Sunday evening and watched Ben Roethlisberger become the first quarterback in NFL history with three career 500-yard passing games against the Ravens.
Both teams won in their own way, and for Newton, that's reward enough. While Roethlisberger was honored by the league, Newton thought it fitting that the Panthers' leading rusher would represent Carolina as opposed to say, Newton himself.
"I look at Ben Roethlisberger the other night having a monster game. He threw the ball 66 times – 66," Newton said. "But I'm looking and I'm saying to myself, 'That's not me.' Taking nothing away from the Pittsburgh Steelers because they're an unbelievable team that's fun to watch. But for us, we have to run the football. That's our niche as an offense."
Newton is a pivotal part of that niche, as evidenced yet again by his 62-yard run that set up the game-winning touchdown in last Sunday's 31-24 triumph. He didn't run the ball as much early in the season while his surgically repaired shoulder healed, and the offense didn't run as smooth.
"If you look at where our offense has gone from the beginning of the season until now, there has been a little bit of development as to who we are," head coach Ron Rivera said. "There's a little more comfort as far as our confidence with the quarterback in terms of his health and what he can do. I'm not surprised that we're doing some things better."
The first five games of the season, Newton averaged 18 yards on the ground. The last nine, he's averaged 62.
"I have no problem with running the football," Newton said. "I'm just trying to put as much pressure on the defense as possible to give them certain things that a lot of other quarterbacks can't give them.
"Whatever game plan we've got going in, I always have the attribute of being able to run the football. I'm just in it to win football games. I've never been in it for statistical purposes. I know why I play this game."
Newton plays to win the game, and that's exactly what the Panthers do more often when he contributes as a runner. Over the course of Newton's career, the Panthers have a 32-18-1 record when Newton reaches 40 rushing yards. When he tops 300 passing yards, Carolina is 9-8.
"The human part of me takes over sometimes and says, 'It's cool statistically to throw for 300 yards,' but the unselfish me says, 'You know what? We're winning football games,'" Newton said. "I can care less what the statistics say. I've had games where I've thrown for 300-plus, 400-plus yards and we lose, and I don't feel good. And then just like this past week (when Newton threw for 137) -- I wasn't knocking the statistics off the roof, but I felt good.
"We've got a lot of guys in that locker room like that. I'm looking at Greg (Olsen). He's a person who didn't have a catch, and you didn't hear from him. It would be very selfish of me to look at my role and say, 'Well I need to be doing more for statistics alone.' That's out of bounds and out of what this team is built for."
Up next for Newton and the Panthers is a quarterback who routinely tops 300 passing yards and routinely wins while doing it. While Newton has won 64 percent of the 51 regular season games in which he's rushed for 40 yards, Rodgers has won 69 percent of the 52 games in which he's passed for 300 yards.
It's an example of how teams can be built to win in different ways.
Newton understands the Panthers' path to success – and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"We need Stew involved. We need C-Mac involved, and Fozzy and CAP. And our offensive line has to be able to get physical," Newton said. "That's the Panthers' nature as long as I've been here, to run the football and control the game."
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Packers.