By Nick Hickman
Last Sunday was disappointing for Carolina and New England fans as both watched their respective teams come up short in divisional games. The pair of losses brought the Panthers to 14-1 and the Patriots to 12-3, although both teams still sit comfortably with a clinched 1st round Playoff bye.
Additionally, both teams wield the two players leading this year’s MVP race in Tom Brady and Cam Newton, neither of which disappointed despite their team’s loss.
Entering the week with 480 passing touchdown in his career, Brady promptly tied Brett Favre’s record for most passing touchdowns for a singular team by connecting with James White in the fourth-quarter of Sunday’s game against the Jets. The 9-yard touchdown sent the game into overtime where the Jets pulled out the victory. Brady completed 22 of 31 passes and ended with one touchdown and an interception.
The Panthers entered last Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons having put up 194 points in their last five games with an astonishing average of 38.8 per. The Falcons—who lost 38-0 in their week 14 matchup with the Panthers—undoubtedly had redemption in mind as they held the Panthers to only 13 points and a loss.
Still, however, Cam Newton found a way to stand out, which is beginning to seem all too easy for the 6’5”, 245 lb. phenom. On the opening drive of the game, Newton ran in his eighth touchdown rush this year, becoming the first player in NFL history with 30+ passing touchdowns and 8 rushing touchdowns in a season. The run also carried Newton to 41 career rushing touchdowns, tying him with San Francisco great Steve Young.
Breaking records seems like only but a pattern for Cam Newton. In the matchup with the Giants two weeks ago, Newton became the first player in history with 300+ passing yards, five touchdown passes and 100+ rushing yards in a single game. Additionally, the quarterback has been responsible for 61.19% of the Panthers points this season.
It seems too that we’ve now become burdened with finding new records for Cam Newton to break. Before losing to the Falcons, Newton was the first player to hold an undefeated 14-0 record in both college and the NFL. Heading into the playoffs in the month of December, Newton boasts a record of 17-4. It’s about time we finally start recognizing the level of greatness in front of us.
And true, there’s no denying the greatness of number 12 in New England. After winning and being awarded the MVP of Super Bowl XLIX, Brady entered a several month-long legal dispute with the NFL—and while it’s worth noting that Brady largely won the battle after having his suspension nullified, the rest of the details only lead to a migraine.
But without a suspension in place, the only reminisce of the Deflategate scandal is the fire in Brady’s belly that has helped lead his team to the best record in the AFC. After this Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots will start the 2016 Playoffs with a bye and will likely threaten another Super Bowl run.
However, just as likely is the reality that Newton’s Panthers will meet them there.
This is a setup far different from last years playoff picture in which the Panthers held a 7-8 record entering the postseason. Their season ended in a 31-17 loss against Seattle in the divisional round. This season, however, the Panther’s have already doubled their wins from last year.
When you watch him on the field it’s undeniable that Newton often resembles a man among boys, it’s the reason we call him Superman. In only his fifth NFL season, Newton is the only player to total five straight seasons with 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. He averages 5.4 yards per rush, a feat desired by many NFL running backs.
Unlike many of his scrambling counterparts of the past, however, Newton has an impeccable ability to pass from the pocket and is second in the NFL in passing touchdowns with 33. It’s the combination of these two threats that make him so lethal.
“WHEN YOU WATCH HIM ON THE FIELD IT’S UNDENIABLE THAT NEWTON OFTEN RESEMBLES A MAN AMONG BOYS, IT’S THE REASON WE CALL HIM SUPERMAN.”
If you bring too much pressure on defense, Newton has the ability to pick your secondary apart. If you favor the passing and coverage game, you leave him the frightening possibility to run and make plays. He will beat you however he needs to.
With the best record in the NFL, there is no team that doesn’t take the Panthers seriously. It’s about time for us as fans, however, to attribute the Panthers and their quarterback the same level of respect. Newton is of a new breed. We have never seen such a combination of speed, strength, athleticism, skill and ability.
He’s taken his Panthers from a 7-8 record to a record of 14-1 and first place in the NFC. The man embodies the iconic image of a superstar and reminds us of so every time he selects a kid in the crowd and hands him his touchdown ball.
The race for NFL MVP is now nearing a finish line. Many more conversations and debates will be had, but nothing can take away from what we’ve already seen. The 2015 NFL season has given us many feats of excellence and excitement, including contributions from Brady.
However, the marathon that has already lasted 15 weeks has a clear frontrunner, and his name is Cam Newton.
Cover Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck/Flickr (CC by-SA 2.0).