It wound up being about Newton’s ability to perform in the clutch.
Newton put the Panthers in position to win Sunday, using his passing and running to set up Graham Gano's 43-yard game-winning field goal as the clock expired for a 38-35 victory over the New York Giants that kept Carolina undefeated.
Newton continued to rack up MVP numbers as the Panthers built a 35-7 lead. He demonstrated his toughness, throwing five touchdown passes for the third time in the past five games despite getting knocked down repeatedly. The Panthers also showed their toughness overall by withstanding a furious comeback.
That this game almost got away after a 28-point lead has to be concerning. Not concerning is Newton’s durability.
Twice the fifth-year quarterback got up slowly after hard hits only to return to throw a touchdown pass on the next series. The first time he walked off the field holding his chest, then came back to throw a 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen. Newton also tweaked his knee in the second half when center Ryan Kalil fell back into him. Newton came back to throw touchdown passes on the next two possessions.
But it was Newton’s ability to make clutch plays in the two-minute offense that kept Carolina’s hopes of a perfect season alive.
What it means: The Panthers (14-0) put themselves in position to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the Arizona Cardinals (11-2) lose the Sunday night game against Philadelphia.
One reason to get excited: Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne showed some flashes with starter Jonathan Stewart (sprained foot) out. The former Auburn star appears much better suited to lead the ground game as an every-down back than Mike Tolbert or Fozzy Whittaker. Artis-Payne finished with 14 carries for 59 yards.
One reason to panic: Maybe not panic, but the secondary still is one cornerback injury from being in a world of hurt.
Fantasy watch: You’ve already read everything there is to know about the big numbers Newton continues to pile up, so let’s look at wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. He caught two touchdown passes for the third straight game to give him 10 on the season. That’s only two shy of what the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. had entering the day. Beckham gets all the publicity, but maybe it’s time to start talking about Ginn as a must-start fantasy player. He’s the first Carolina receiver with 10 touchdowns in a season since Steve Smith in 2005.
Ouch: Ginn left with a rib injury in the second half and was ruled out for the rest of the game initially, but he returned in the fourth quarter after the Giants cut the lead to two touchdowns. Kalil was down early in the third quarter, but he walked off under his own power and returned.
Ouch 2: This has nothing to do with an injury. It has to do with all the extracurricular activity between Beckham and Carolina cornerback Josh Norman away from the ball. Beckham was flagged three times. Norman kept his cool until late in the third quarter when the exchanges got out of hand.
How did he miss that? Beckham had Norman beaten badly deep on the first series and dropped what would have been a touchdown for a quick 7-0 lead for the Giants. It was only his third drop of the season, but this one was huge.