His 143.4 quarterback rating was the highest of his career. He’d only bested his 76.9 percent completion rating once before, and combining his legs and arm for four touchdowns was something he’d only done four times prior (twice with three touchdown passes and one rushing score, once with three rushing scores and one through the air and once with two touchdowns from both the ground game and the Panthers’ passing attack).
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft hasn’t enjoyed success like this often. For every game like Sunday’s where Newton lit up scoreboards with his electrifying play, there were at least as many games where Newton missed the mark, both figuratively and literally.
Newton has been involved in 14 games where he posted a completion rate above 60, and 21 where he was below that standard. Along with his five games with four scores, he’s posted three games with a combination of at least four miscues (interceptions and fumbles combined).
With good comes bad with Newton, and there’s typically been more bad than good. And there’s no real rhyme or reason to the timeliness of his streaks.
On Dec. 24, 2011, a Week 16 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another. Prior to Sunday in Minnesota, this was his brightest moment statistically speaking (142.4 quarterback rating).
The following week against the New Orleans Saints, Newton threw a pick, completed just 60 percent of his passes instead of the 71 percent the week before and posted a quarterback rating of 75.1.
Directly after a Week 2 win over the Saints in 2012 where Newton connected on 70 percent of his passes and ran for a score and threw a touchdown pass (129.2 quarterback rating), he faltered and the Panthers got thumped by the New York Giants. Newton only posted a 53.3 completion rating. His three interceptions helped lower his quarterback rating to a dismal 40.6.
There has only been one time during Newton’s 37 games where he has strung together continued success over more than three games. From Week 11 to Week 14 in 2012, Newton posted three consecutive quarterback ratings over 100 and had a fourth game where he landed just below at 99.4. He threw nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions and ran for three more scores. His Panthers were 3-1 over that period of time.
ESPN's SportsNation even made Newton's inconsistency the butt of a joke on Sunday.
It was only the Vikings
Before you get too excited about the career marks Newton set on Sunday in Minnesota, think about the opponent.
The Vikings are 1-4 on the season and have given up at least 27 points to each of their five opponents. Minnesota ranks 18th against the run (110 yards per game allowed), 29th through the air (308 yards per game allowed) and only two teams (the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Giants) have allowed more points per game than Minnesota’s 31.6.
Take a look at Carolina’s longest pass play of the season, a 79-yard touchdown pass from Newton to wide receiver Brandon LaFell in the third quarter.
It’s not often that Newton has three viable targets to throw to that are this open, but LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Steve Smith could all have caught the ball for a big gain.
Newton hit the right target and LaFell ran 54 yards after the catch to score a touchdown. The highlight of the play was Ginn’s feet-lifting block to ensure LaFell’s safe passage to the end zone.
This Minnesota defense is pretty rotten and shouldn’t be used as a measuring stick for future success for Newton and the Panthers. Carolina still has the San Francisco 49ers on the schedule, two games against the Saints and must face the New York Jets.
Those are some pretty stout defenses. If you want to compare apples to oranges, look back to Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, the third-ranked defense in the NFL.
The Panthers only managed seven points against the Seahawks and Newton threw for just 125 yards, although he did complete almost 70 percent of his passes.
There are still some major speed bumps on Carolina’s schedule. Its win over Minnesota, and Newton’s strong showing, were unfortunately outside the norm. This is an offense that’s been held to under 10 points twice this season already and ranks 31st in passing yards.
But almost everything went right for the Panthers in Week 6. Newton was on target, and his receivers held onto the ball. Even the game plan by head coach Ron Rivera and play-calling by offensive coordinator Mike Shula was somewhat inspired.
The stars don’t align for Carolina that frequently, and Newton hasn’t been good enough to force the issue. There are some quarterbacks in this league that succeed despite their surroundings, whether it is on the scoreboard or on the stat sheet. Newton hasn’t been that guy.
It hasn’t all been Newton’s fault, however. Sure, the third-year passer has some mechanical issues, but just as important—maybe more so—is that fact that the receiving talent around him has been severely lacking outside Smith. Newton has never had a true No. 2 receiver.
Newton also rarely gets the kind of aggressive game plan and in-game coaching that he got in Week 6. Forget that the Carolina offense kept its foot on the gas as the game went on, allowing him to continue to throw the football with a sizable lead. Tight end Greg Olsen gained 11 yards on a screen pass that started out as a flea flicker.
That’s inspired play-calling. The Panthers were also 2-for-2 on fourth-down plays. That’s confidence in the offense from the coaching staff.
But this could be just a one-game mirage. After Carolina pasted 38 points on the Giants in Week 3 and had a bye week to prepare, the Panthers got shellacked in Arizona by the Cardinals 22-6. Newton went from a 104.4 quarterback rating there to a 47.8.
Newton’s is not reliable on a consistent base, as neither are his offensive coaching staff and Rivera. It’s going to take a conscious effort to turn Sunday’s win over Minnesota into a regular outcome by the Panthers and not just a rare occurrence.
This offense hasn’t shown it can consistently do that since Newton’s arrival.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
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