Cam Newton’s effort Sunday in many ways is a perfect snapshot of his professional career thus far: flashes of brilliance, but in the end, little sustained success.
Newton made plays against the Buffalo Bills that alternately took your breath away one moment and left you shaking your head the next.
“We had our times that we made plays,” he said after the Bills’ 24-23 win in Ralph Wilson Stadium. “With us in so many tight games, you would think we would know by now, but it’s still a learning and maturation thing for us. In tight situations, we have to somehow make a play.”
Newton didn’t get that chance in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth and 1 from the Bills’ 21-yard line with 1:42 left in the game, the Panthers elected to kick a field goal when a first down would have sealed a victory. Graham Gano’s 39-yard field goal was good, but the Bills got the ball back with 1:38 left, just enough time for rookie EJ Manuel to march them 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“We leave that up to coach,” Newton said when asked whether the offense wanted to go for the first down. “If we would have went for it on fourth and short, then obviously it was guys who would have gritted their teeth and said ‘let’s get it.’ I have no doubt in my mind that we would have gotten it, but I have full confidence in our coaches’ decisions.”
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Newton picked up a third and 1 from the Buffalo 7-yard line, gaining 3 yards on a play in which the Buffalo defense first made contact with him behind the line of scrimmage. For the game, however, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder carried the ball just four times for 15 yards.
“We had a good plan for it. We had a good week of practice,” Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “With him, out in the open field is really where he can hurt you. They’ll give him some runs. … He’s a big guy to handle.”
Newton went 21 of 38 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and one interception through the air. His perfectly thrown touchdown strike to Ted Ginn in the third quarter traveled 55 yards in the air and hit the receiver perfectly in stride in the end zone.
Newton, though, missed on a few other deep balls, particularly by overthrowing them.
“ We felt good about those opportunities and we thought we’d test them,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve just got to be able to make those connections.”
“I know there are some things that I can do better and get better at,” Newton said.
He pointed to the Panthers’ red-zone efficiency as one area that has to get better. The Panthers were just 1 of 3 scoring touchdowns once they got inside the Bills’ 20-yard line.
“The defense played lights out, with two turnovers giving us the short field and we have to find a way to translate that into points. If we do that, we will win the game, hands down. We’ve got a bunch of relentless guys on our team and there is no doubt in my mind we will continuously push forward to become a better team. As far as quitting, there will be none of that, at all.”