Newton on the run for Panthers again

Posted: November 7, 2017 at 2:40 a.m.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula knew exactly what Cam Newton was going to do as soon as he broke the pocket and started running toward the end zone.

From there, it was just a matter of Shula holding his breath.

Newton completed a 9-yard touchdown run Sunday with a highlight reel leap into the end zone, stretching the ball across the goal line and essentially dunking on cornerback Desmond Trufant. The quarterback landed safely on his surgically repaired right shoulder and got up to celebrate Carolina's go-ahead touchdown in a game they would eventually win 20-17 to improve to 6-3.

"Every now and again, is it a little precarious? Yes," Shula said of Newton running the ball. "It's like living on the edge."

Despite talk from Coach Ron Rivera this past summer about limiting Newton's carries to prevent wear and tear on his quarterback's body, the 2015 league MVP has taken it upon himself to breathe some life into a stagnant running game.

Newton has led the team in rushing four consecutive games, including Sunday when he gained 86 yards on nine carries. He's averaged 10 carries per game over that span, the vast majority on scrambles rather than designed runs.

"I'm just trying to win football games at a fast and rapid pace," Newton said Sunday.

Newton is on pace to run for more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

When asked whether the Panthers still want to limit Newton's hits, Shula replied: "Sure, but if he runs the ball and slides is that a hit? Or are you exposing him? I guess my point is it's a fine line that we walk."

It's a line the Panthers have been walking since Newton came into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2012.

On one hand, the Panthers don't want to risk getting their $102.5 million quarterback hurt on an unnecessary run. On the other, they have an uncommon weapon in the 6-5, 245-pounder that is difficult to defend. Newton has piled up 3,907 yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground -- the most by a quarterback in NFL history -- in 6½ seasons.

Both Shula and Rivera take solace in the notion that Newton is -- his diving touchdown notwithstanding -- getting smarter when he runs.

He's finally learned a proper baseball slide. And he's doing a better job of getting out of bounds and avoiding contract when multiple defenders surround him. That was never more evident than Sunday when he culminated a 34-yard run with a slide in the open field as tacklers converged.

He did the same thing on a couple of shorter runs.

"You can see it by the way he gets down prior to hits, and running out of bounds or sliding," Rivera said of Newton playing smarter. "He was a little bit on the exciting side when he leaped to get the touchdown. That was a little too much, but I'm not going to stop him."

Sports on 11/07/2017