Stewart on Cam Newton: 'He played with his heart on his sleeve'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scrambled for four yards on the second play of Sunday's 17-13 victory over Cleveland. He went 15 yards off right tackle on the third play off the read-option.

If you were wondering about his back, which was fractured in two places 12 days earlier when he was involved in a two-vehicle crash on the way to Bank of America Stadium, that answered your question.

He's fine.

"I was just trying to take what the defense gave me with the scramble and the read," Newton said. "And I tried to get down as much as possible."

The getting down part was perhaps the scariest. Known more for his head-first drives at the end of runs, Newton has spent time recently practicing the slide.

Judging by the awkward way he went down at the end of his first couple of runs, he needs more work.

And when Newton needed the extra yards, as he did on a third-and-10 scramble on which he gained 11, he still went head first.

While it wasn't graceful, his play was inspiring to teammates.

"He played with his heart on his sleeve," running back Jonathan Stewart said.

Newton and Stewart connected for the winning touchdown with 7:07 remaining. Newton scrambled to keep the play alive, then found Stewart wide open in the end zone for the 9-yard catch.

That Newton kept his focus downfield looking for a receiver instead of running for whatever he could was perhaps the best thing he did all day.

"He created an opportunity for us," coach Ron Rivera said.

That's why Rivera went with Newton and his back injury over a fully healthy Derek Anderson, who led Carolina to a 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay a week earlier. Newton's ability to run -- he had 63 yards on 12 carries -- brings an added dimension to the offense.

But it was Newton's heart, not his legs, which most were talking about afterwards.

"For a guy to have a broken back, basically, and run around and do the things he did ... it's amazing," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "But nothing he does any more surprises me."

Rivera said Newton's effort "speaks to who he is and his toughness."

"But also what he means to his teammates," Rivera said. "Just the fact that every day he came out -- Wednesday, Thursday, Friday -- and the way his teammates rallied around him and worked with him, that was extraordinary."

Twelve days ago, Newton felt lucky to be alive. He was in a nearby hospital with visions of his 1998 pickup truck, on its side with the roof smashed in, fresh in his mind.

Newton called the time since then "somewhat tiring" because of all he had to do in terms of rehabilitation and extra work to come back.

"I can remember family members and loved ones at the hospital and they would not turn [the TV] to ESPN," Newton recalled of the hours after the crash. "They would not turn to any news channel. I was like, 'Do people know?'

"Then I saw the [news] helicopter. It was like, 'OK, it's a big deal.'"

Newton's ordeal was big when it happened. It was big this week when questions arose about him coming back.

The two early runs let the world, and perhaps Newton, know everything was all right.

"I'm on a [pedestal] each and every day whether I want to be or not," Newton said. "So whether I do good things, people are going to be affected and I just want to use mine in a positive light to encourage the next person.

"Whether a child, a male, female, what have you, that's what we are on this earth for -- to make people better."

Newton made the Panthers better on this day. Beyond his running, he completed 18 of 31 pass attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown.

"He was the Cam Newton that we know," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "That's just a testament to him. Cam's a tough, tough guy. Hat's off to him."