CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton stood in the corner of the end zone and pantomimed ripping open the chest of his shirt while fans showered him with cheers. It's his trademark touchdown celebration, one that NFL teams are quickly getting used to seeing from the league's most dynamic rookie. Newton mimics how Clark Kent reveals the Superman costume, with that unforgettable "S," under his dress shirt.
Newton might not have been a superhero on Sunday, but he looked darn close against the Washington Redskins' defense. He made Bank of America Stadium his phone booth, accounting for two touchdowns and 315 yards of offense in the Carolina Panthers' 33-20 win.
The afternoon was supposed to be about new Washington quarterback John Beck. Instead, Newton showed the Redskins how exciting a bona fide franchise quarterback prospect can be.
"The kid is a pretty Ferrari," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "He can run. He can throw. He's the total package. He's going to be a player in this league for a long time."
Beck's debut as the Redskins' starter became secondary in a loss that sends them reeling. Washington (3-3) lost for the second straight week and for the third time in its last four games. The Redskins' 3-1 start seems like it happened in a different season. The Panthers won for only the second time this year, but Washington was the team that seemed to be languishing in last place.
"It [stinks], but sometimes that's what you need," receiver Jabar Gaffney said. "It'll humble us a little bit and help us work a little bit harder to get back to doing things the way we should be doing things."
What began as a dull field-goal battle turned into a showcase for the progress Newton has made since the Panthers drafted him first overall in April. And the reigning Heisman Trophy winner did it against a defense that entered the day ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game.
Carolina scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half and turned a 9-6 halftime lead into a comfortable win. Newton was the catalyst.
It actually started on the game's third play from scrimmage. All 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds of Newton dropped back to pass. When the Redskins pressured him, he took off running. He broke four tackles on the 25-yard gain.
That play accounted for almost half of his 59 rushing yards. He got 16 more on his touchdown in the third quarter, the one that prompted his Superman celebration.
Newton, operating out of the shotgun, faked a handoff to the running back on his left and kept the ball. He ran to the left, following his tight end and surging through a sizeable opening in Washington's defense.
It's a zone-read run that is extremely common in the college game these days but isn't prevalent in the NFL because of defenders' speed. But Newton is a rare athlete who can make pro defenses respect it.
When he saw linebackers Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher get sucked inside on the run fake, he kept it for an easy score.
"I'm going to play my job," Orakpo said. "I can't control two people. My job is to go for the dive, go for the running back, and be late on the quarterback. It's very tough on a defense when everybody is not sound as far as when the zone read is coming."
The Redskins stopped that play at times, but it was an integral part of a rushing attack that amassed 175 yards.
"I guess we weren't gap sound," Orakpo said. "They were moving guys around in different formations trying to get us thinking and out of our gaps, and that's what kind of translated into them making those big runs."
Carolina hurt the Redskins just as badly through the air. Newton threw for 256 yards and posted a career-high passer rating of 127.5. He threw only five incompletions in 23 attempts. Four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith was the main beneficiary, with 143 yards on seven catches.
Newton began the day with an NFL-high nine interceptions, but the Redskins couldn't coax one out of him.
"Today he made plays where he didn't force [the ball] into windows," linebacker London Fletcher said. "Guys were open. He made plays for them. He's a good player, a lot better than you would expect a guy to be at such a young age and with no offseason workouts."
All of Carolina's offensive firepower kept the Redskins' defense on the field for long stretches. The Panthers had an 11-minute advantage in time of possession. One of their second-half scoring drives lasted a whopping 8 minutes, 26 seconds, and two field goal drives in the first lasted longer than 7 minutes.
Heck, even when Newton got sacked he made a big play. Orakpo crushed him on a blindside sack at the Redskins' 18-yard line after rushing unblocked, but Newton held onto the ball and preserved a field goal.
"He's a big dude, man," Orakpo said. "I'm very surprised it didn't come out."
It left the Redskins searching for Kryptonite, while Newton, in the end, soaked in the adoration.
"That," he said, "is the fun part — celebrating."
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