After controversial week, Cam Newton shows he's regaining MVP form
DETROIT -- Cam Newton didn’t shy away from the negative attention he got earlier in the week for laughing at a female reporter’s question, arriving at Ford Field on Sunday wearing a Rosie the Riveter pin on his one-of-a-kind hat.
He didn’t shows signs of being distracted by what has been a tumultuous week, either.
The Panthers in general looked sharper, minus a few early penalties against the defense.
But the spotlight was on Newton because of what he, in a video apology, called an “extremely degrading and disrespectful" comment to Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue on Wednesday after she asked about the physicality of Devin Funchess’ routes.
If you missed it, Newton laughed and responded, "It's funny to hear a female talk about routes like ... it's funny."
So all eyes were on the 2015 MVP to see whether the firestorm that followed would be a distraction.
Newton was in control from the outset with a performance that has to put him on the early list of MVP candidates. He surpassed 300 yards passing for the second straight game, the first time he has done that since the first two games of his rookie season in 2011.
He followed up a performance in which he completed 75.8 percent of his passes by going 26-for-33 (78.7 percent) for 355 yards.
He looked as focused as he has at any point in his career. And he seldom has looked better than he did in the first half, completing 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
The only thing that slowed down Newton was penalties.
“With him it really is about focus,’’ coach Ron Rivera said of Newton, who on Thursday apologized for what he called a "degrading'' comment to a Charlotte Observer reporter but never lost focus of his game preparation. “He did a nice job. It was an unfortunate circumstances this week. I thought he addressed them at the appropriate time.
“I know he understands he made a mistake and it was time to go forward. Hopefully, we can avoid that and everybody learns from that.’’
Newton has been a streaky player in the past, and he’s on a good streak now. After throwing two touchdowns with four interceptions in the first three games, he has six TDs in the last two with only one interception.
He also had a rushing touchdown against New England. But that was against the worst defense in the NFL.
His effort against Detroit might have been more impressive in part because the Lions ranked 17th defensively and because of everything Newton dealt with off the field during the week.
He made tight end Ed Dickson look like three-time Pro Bowl selection Greg Olsen (who's out with a broken foot), connecting with him four times in the first half for 152 yards and five times in the game for 175 yards.
He didn’t take off running on third-and-7 from the Detroit 10 late in the first half even though there was room. He patiently waited behind good protection until he found Funchess in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
He showed he still can throw the deep ball as well as anybody, connecting with Kelvin Benjamin down the left sideline for a 31-yard touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.
And he completed a pressure-packed 16-yard pass to Benjamin on third-and-9 with just over two minutes remaining after Detroit rallied within three.
“He’s a playmaker,’’ Funchess said. “He’s just a playmaker. We were hungry and we wanted to blow up on them boys.’’
Rivera said it's obvious the past two weeks Newton's shoulder that was surgically repaired in March has gotten stronger and that has turned into positive results on the field.
“He’s doing some really good things right now,’’ Rivera said. “He’s really in sync with his receivers.’’
When Newton plays like this, the Panthers, who came into the day ranked fourth in total defense, can play with any team in the NFL.
"We’re moving forward and we’re just getting ready for Thursday now,'' Newton said of a primetime game against the Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) when asked what the last week has been like for him. "At the end of the day, you still have to be a professional about certain things, and with me and the preparation, it couldn’t stop. So, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself knowing that certain things took place that was out of my control, but at the end of the day, you live and you learn.”