Photograph: Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports
The Carolina Panthers’ reunion with Cam Newton could easily have been a gimmick. The last time we heard from the quarterback formerly known as Superman, the New England Patriots had released him after he lost the starting battle with Mac Jones. The fact that it took until Week 10 for a team to take a chance on him felt ominous. Turns out the only ones who needed to be worried were the Arizona Cardinals.
Before Sunday afternoon’s game, the team announced that Newton would be active but wouldn’t start. This turned out to be technically true, as PJ Walker took most of the snaps during the Panthers’ 34-10 win. But it didn’t matter: this was Newton’s show from the very start.
Showing off the two-way versatility that characterized his run to NFL MVP (and the Super Bowl) in the 2015 season, Newton scored the team’s first two touchdowns: one on the ground and the other through the air. Against a Cardinals team playing without their brilliant quarterback Kyler Murray and others, the Panthers’ 14-0 early lead effectively ended the game in the first quarter. With the win, the Panthers improved their record to 5-5 while Arizona fell to 8-2.
Related: Aaron Rodgers returns after Covid layoff as Packers beat Seahawks
Despite the early offensive fireworks, the most memorable play of the game was an unsportsmanlike penalty. After that first touchdown, Newton showed the competitive fire that earned him his fair share of enemies back in his prime by removing his helmet and shouting “I’m baaack!” to the home crowd in Arizona. The Panthers received a 15-yard penalty for Newton’s actions, but only his most vehement haters would hold his exuberance against him.
After all, it’s been a long road for the 32-year-old. Carolina drafted Newton a decade ago, even though it seems like both ages and moments ago, and he almost immediately paid dividends. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011 and improved from…