CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton makes it no secret he loves Superman, down to pretending to rip open his No. 1 jersey to reveal an imaginary "S" on his chest after scoring touchdowns.
The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback went airborne on a called draw at the Houston 2, was clipped as he cleared the goal line and flipped into the end zone to make it 17-10.
"I just know that my heart was in my socks," Newton said with a smile. "When I was flipping, I was like, 'Hey, I don’t know how this is going to end.' And then I'm coming down I was, 'I can stick this.' I didn't stick it. I've still got to get a high rating by the judge."
In Olympic scoring, the flip won't get 10s. And the game won't go down as Newton's prettiest performance. But it was one of his gutsiest, facing the fierce pass rush of two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
"Yeah, I told him the Russian judge gave him a 3, but everybody else gave him a 10,'" said tight end Greg Olsen, who had six catches for 70 yards. "I guarantee the first thing he thought when he fell was he wished he'd stuck that landing, but that was pretty impressive."
And it helped the Panthers to a 2-0 record heading into consecutive NFC South games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay.
"Superman, huh!" cornerback Josh Norman said of Newton. "Went up and over. Almost landed on his feet. That's our guy, man. When you see him do things like that … to do that for us, and get up and over the top, was a little bit of an edge."
Newton's quarterback rating was average, at 71.3. He completed 18 of 37 pass attempts for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He had an interception and probably should have had one or two more.
But he also led the Panthers in rushing with 76 yards on 10 carries. That was key. With the offense looking horrid -- 41 yards on its first 16 plays -- Newton began a second-quarter drive with a 15-yard run on a read-option to the right that got the offense into a flow and forced Watt and Clowney to tone down the pass rush. Four plays later, Newton completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
"His running really got us rolling when we were struggling," Olsen said. "Got us in a little bit of a rhythm."
Newton later threw a 36-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Philly Brown, who did nothing but drop passes during the preseason.
Perhaps as impressive as Newton's physical toughness is his mental toughness. Ginn had dropped two passes in this game to go with two drops in the opener, and yet Newton continued to go to him. He did the same thing with Brown, who had six drops in two preseason games.
That says a lot about Newton.
"It says a lot about our culture around here," Olsen said. "We're not going to panic. We're not going to try and reinvent ourselves every time something goes wrong.
"We believe in the guys we have. We believe in the system that we run. Just because it doesn't go well early, just keep going back."
The Panthers also believe in their defense. That unit continued to play well even without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed his first career start with a concussion. It didn't hurt that Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett was low on seemingly half of his 58 attempts and the Texans had no running game, rushing for 61 yards on 23 attempts.
Kuechly's replacement, A.J. Klein, contributed a Kuechly-like interception on a deep pass over the middle that set up Newton's final touchdown pass.
But it was Newton's acrobatic touchdown that got most of the postgame attention.
"I'm sure we're going to see that around here for a little while," Olsen said. "I caught the tail end of it on the JumboTron. It was pretty unbelievable."
All right tackle Mike Remmers saw when he looked over were Newton's legs, and they were aimed at the sky instead of the ground.
"Oh, man! That'll probably be all over ESPN," he said. "That guy has got so much heart and dedication in his game, and it shows on every play. When he puts himself on the line like that, that was awesome."
Newton enjoyed talking about the flip at the end of a week during which he was questioned about whether he'd beefed up and lost a step, or if his 14 rushes in the opener against Jacksonville were too many. He talked about how the coaching staff thought the quarterback runs would be there all week in practice. He became a bit animated talking about how he sized up the defense as the play unfolded.
"I kind of eyed the safety and he was gearing up, kind of scrunching his face like that," Newton said, making a face. "I just don't want to read in the [paper] the next day that Cam has to be smart at running. It will give you all an extra thing to write about."