The scene is familiar to any Carolina Panther's fan this season: Panthers squandering an early lead, Cam Newton sulking on the sidelines with a towel over his head as we suffer another loss.
While Cam is certainly one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, he can at times look and sound like a spoiled child. The intangible leadership qualities that pro scouts look for in young talented quarterbacks have been seemingly lacking at critical points during the rookie's 2011 campaign. On Sunday against the Texans Cam Newton quieted some critics by getting in the faces of his teammates, rallying his team in the fourth quarter, staving off another would-be Carolina implosion.
Heading into the second half, the Panthers were leading 21-0 and set to receive the opening kick-off. Then it happened, the Panthers went three and out running of a total of 1:48 off the clock. The Texans score a field goal 1:47 later. Cue the Panthers offense: 6 plays, 15 yards, and 2:58 later the Panthers are punting again. Houston kicks another field goal and forces another three and out. Arian Foster and T.J. Yates get the ball and finally score the touchdown they need to get back in the game. The scoreboard reads 21-13 Panthers with 13:48 left in the fourth quarter. All Houston has to do now is make another defensive stop, get the ball back to their All-Pro running back, and score a touchdown to make this game really interesting.
Enter Cam Newton. Throughout the season, the young superstar has had his issues with closing out games and he is facing another potential debacle. Instead of looking frustrated or despondent Newton is in the huddle firing up his troops. He has a giant grin on his face and looks comfortable with the pressure, like he already knows what is about to unfold. Carolina lines up and smashes the ball down the Houston D's throat for seven plays, 80 yards and a crushing fourth quarter touchdown. The 70,000 or so fans at Reliant Stadium who had been roaring all fell silent.
During the drive the Panthers ran the ball five times for 45 yards culminating in a 24 yard Deangelo Williams touchdown dash that all but sealed the game. Cam himself had a critical 13 yard run for a first down on the drive that got the team visibly amped.
In my mind and in those of many other fans of the Panthers Cam Newton has taken his game to the next level. We have all seen the enormity of talent the young man possess but have seen him become very uncomfortable with losing. While this is a good sign, meaning he is an ultra-competitive alpha male warrior type, he also has to understand the reality of the situation which is that there are going to be a lot more games and opportunities to win. Sometimes you have to take your lumps, just like Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman did during their rookie seasons. There is no sense it becoming angry or frustrated, especially in the heat of the game. He must learn more every week and improve with his teammates. There should be many more great games in the coming years for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Stay tuned...