Newton's 'bad' day is good enough

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton, by his recent standards, had a bad day on Sunday.

Yet the Carolina Panthers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-10 despite the so-so performance of their quarterback.

That speaks volumes as to how far the Panthers (5-3) have come since a 1-3 start.

"That's growth, and that's what you need to see,'' Newton said. "For us it's coming out each and every day and proving to ourselves that we're not going to play lights out each and every day, but we still can hold ourselves accountable.''

To be fair, Newton's performance wasn't horrible. He still completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown.

But he's been playing at a level so high, a level higher than any quarterback in the league for three straight weeks with a completion percentage of 77.3 and passer rating of 130.3, that Sunday's numbers pale in comparison.

Most of his problems on this day involved overthrowing his receivers. He missed Steve Smith a couple of times on slant routs that could have gone for big yardage. He missed Brandon LaFell, who led the team in receiving with six catches for 74 yards, on what could have been a long touchdown. Same with Ted Ginn Jr.

He finished 1-for-9 on passes of at least 15 yards down field for 21 yards and two interceptions, his first turnovers after three games without one.

"He got a little carried away early on,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "He tried to make a couple of things happen. . . . I think he was a little anxious, pushed it a little bit. He's excited. He wants to do well. It's unfortunate that he didn't bring the ball down a little bit because there were some big plays that we left out there.''

Newton knows that.

"Whatever you want to call it, it was unacceptable,'' he said.

But on two of the biggest plays of the game, Newton was perfect. On the fourth-and-1 rollout pass in the second quarter he hit wide-open tight end Greg Olsen in stride for a touchdown.

On first-and-goal from the 8 in the fourth quarter he ran practically untouched around the right side for the touchdown.

He also managed the game well enough for Carolina to hold a 36:35 to 23:35 advantage in time of possession.

So as bad as his day may have looked compared to recent ones, it really wasn't all bad.