Cam Newton jumping on fumbles, and his play 'has truly matured'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton hasn't forgotten.

He hasn't forgotten the criticism.

He hasn't forgotten the attacks on his toughness.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback hasn't forgotten anything that was said about him not diving on his fumble with 4:04 left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 and only a six-point deficit against the Denver Broncos in what turned into a 24-10 loss.

So when Newton faced a similar situation on Sunday against Cincinnati -- albeit a much smaller stage and with the Panthers leading by seven in the final quarter -- he didn't hesitate. He thrust his 6-foot-5, 245-pound body, unafraid of harm to his body as he was in the Super Bowl, into the pile and somehow came up with the ball.

"I've been bashed before for not jumping on fumbles, so I just wanted to make sure, come hell or high water, I was going to get that fumble," Newton said with a smile. "Just trying to create good habits."

Newton has created a lot of good habits during the first three games under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Statistically, he's off to a better start than his 2015 season that ended with the NFL MVP Award and trip to the Super Bowl.

Newton has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and one interception during a 2-1 start as Carolina enters its bye week. He has three rushing touchdowns.

Through his first three games in 2015 Newton had a completion percentage of 56.5 with five touchdowns to two interceptions. He had two rushing touchdowns.

It wasn't until the second half of that season that Newton caught fire, throwing 20 of his career-high 35 touchdowns over the final eight weeks.

"Very consistent is a good word for it," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday when describing Newton's start. "His play has truly matured. By that I mean he's learning to take what's being given. In the past he may have tried to force some things down field."

With what Newton has done so far this season, particularly on Sunday with two rushing and two passing touchdowns, Newton slowly is putting his name back into the MVP conversation.

"He's playing about as good as you could ask him to play," said general manager Marty Hurney, who made Newton the first pick of the 2011 draft. "He's confident. He's making great decisions and making great throws."

And he's jumping on fumbles.

"I don't think he ever can surprise you," said Hurney, joking that reporters were trying to trap him into going back to the Super Bowl 50 fumble.

In a way, what Newton has done this season is more impressive than what he did in 2015. He's playing behind an offensive line that has only one starter, center Ryan Kalil, where he was when training camp began. Carolina is on its third left tackle.

Newton is also playing without Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, who re-fractured his right foot in the opener against Dallas.

Turner deserves a lot of credit. He said before the season that Newton, who has a career completion percentage of 58.5, could complete 65 to 70 percent of his passes in his scheme. He's worked diligently, along with quarterback coach Scott Turner, to tighten Newton's footwork and overall fundamentals.

Rivera said the results so far from Newton is one reason Turner was hired to replace Mike Shula.

"Not just Cam, but some of the different things we're doing in terms of personnel groupings, the way we're looking for matchups," he said. "Those things are important that we have a guy that really gives a different perspective and a different way of looking at things."

But as Newton said prior to the season, it falls on him to execute.

So far, he has.

"He just has a great feeling for the offense, the zone read," Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. "He can escape as soon as you jump out of a lane. He's a hard player to play against."

Having running back Christian McCaffrey helps tremendously. He gives Newton an easy outlet in the passing game as was the case in a Week 2 loss to Atlanta when McCaffrey had 14 catches for 102 yards.

He takes the pressure off Newton in the running game as was the case in Sunday's 31-21 victory when McCaffrey had 184 yards on 28 carries.

Having the two work in concert is almost impossible to stop.

"It's a tough thing, because you've got to be disciplined," Dunlap said.

The only time Newton wasn't disciplined on Sunday was after a fourth-quarter, 7-yard scramble scramble that put Carolina well within Graham Gano's field goal range nursing a seven-point lead.

"The defender just kept slapping at the ball," Newton said. "He kept slapping, tapping ... miss, slap, miss slap, miss. So I just gave him the ball. I didn't know that was taunting. Can't do that kids. If you're watching, don't do that at home.

"I was more embarrassed for the mere fact that I got a penalty, because I'm always the preacher of focus, hone in. As I'm taking the walk of shame back to the bench I was like, 'I need to listen to my own self talk.'"

Fortunately for Newton, he didn't have to take the walk of shame back after losing the fumble.