Why Newton is Mike Shula's favorite player

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton has a little bit of Jolly Old St. Nick personality in the Carolina Panthers' huddle when it comes to keeping the situation light and fun.

But according to left tackle Jordan Gross, his quarterback wasn't his normal "jovial'' self on Sunday when he stepped into the huddle with 55 seconds left and the Panthers trailing New Orleans 13-10.

He was focused.

But then Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left and he was jovial again. He typically is, even in the most stressful situations.

It's part of what makes him so good.

Nobody is a bigger Newton fan than offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

"Don't tell him this, but he's probably the most favorite guy I've ever coached. Although I said that before and I got a text from David Garrard, 'What do you mean by that?'" Shula said of Garrard, whom he coached at Jacksonville.

Here's what Shula means.

"He's fun because he's full of life,'' Shula said of Newton. "He loves football. His personality ... he's a sponge. You can get on him, and it doesn't bother him. He doesn't have an ego that way.

"That just brings energy to you as a coach, just to get yourself motivated. Here's a guy that is going to continue to get better and better as long as you push him and he pushes himself. He learns from his mistakes and he has a lot of fun along the way doing it.''

Shula can go on and on about Newton. He likes him that much. You can see it. You can hear it.

"He loves winning and he doesn't care how he wins,'' Shula continued. "He just wants to win.''

Newton can be truly amazing at times, particularly when he's improvising with his feet. But few things he has done was more spectacular than his 37-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr. on a crossing route to start Sunday's game-winning drive.

The first pick of the 2011 draft stood as tall in the pocket as you'll ever see, ignoring defenders grabbing at him from all sides -- including one that had so much of his hand in Newton's face that the quarterback was almost throwing blindly. He patiently waited for Ginn to pop open.

Then he threw a bullet that hit Ginn in stride and enabled him to pick up another 10 or so yards before running out of bounds to stop the clock.

"It probably ranks up higher [than most plays] because of the timeliness of it,'' Shula said.

The play helped Carolina to its 10th win in 11 games. It locked up a playoff spot and put the Panthers (11-4) in position to win the NFC South and a first-round playoff bye on Sunday in Newton's hometown of Atlanta.

You might say the focused-but-jovial Newton helped give Carolina an early Christmas present.