GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cam Newton took the snap on third down and it was like he’d never left the Carolina Panthers. The quarterback got moving in a hurry in his blue, black and silver jersey, barreled into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown, ripped off his helmet and screamed “I’m back!” as his teammates celebrated around him.
Superman may be a few years older, but he’s still got a flair for the dramatic.
“I’m just floating at an all-time high frequency,” Newton said. “It’s almost scary.”
The 32-year-old provided a flashback to his MVP days in his second debut with the Panthers, throwing for one touchdown, running for another and sparking Carolina to a 34-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Newton — the 2015 NFL MVP who was signed by the quarterback-thin Panthers earlier in the week — made his presence felt on his first play of the game, entering on third down, running for the touchdown and immediately giving Carolina a 7-0 advantage.
On Carolina’s next drive, Newton threw a 2-yard TD pass to Robby Anderson as the Panthers (5-5) built a stunning 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 23-0 advantage by halftime.
“Today was a good example of the team we can be,” running back Christian McCaffrey said.
The Cardinals (8-2) had the best record in the NFL coming into the game but looked discombobulated from the beginning.
Backup Colt McCoy, who was playing a second straight game for the injured Kyler Murray, coughed up a fumble after being sacked on the third play of the game. It gave Carolina great field position that it eventually converted into Newton’s touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
It only got worse for Arizona.
“I thought they played harder, they played faster and had a great plan in all three phases and just really beat us up,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
The Cardinals — who were also missing top receiver DeAndre Hopkins — managed 169 total yards and could never mount a response after Carolina’s opening onslaught. McCoy finished 11 of 20 for 107 yards and an interception.
“I knew what the coverage was, what we were tying to do,” McCoy said. “It was just the timing and rhythm of it all. It just never clicked. The run game never could get going and you change your plan a little bit when you are down 17 points in the first half.”
Carolina’s struggling offense looked reborn with Newton in the mix. The majority of snaps went to P.J. Walker, who completed 22 of 29 passes for 167 yards, and Newton was saved for mostly short-yardage situations. McCaffrey also had a big day in the backfield, running for 95 yards and catching 10 passes for 66 yards.
Newton admitted he didn’t know much of the playbook after having three days to prepare, joking that his knowledge was “two touchdowns’ worth.”
Carolina’s defense also helped, coming up with an early fumble recovery, an interception and a fourth-down stop that gave the Panthers good field position.
Newton’s teammates enjoyed every minute of the much-needed win.
“It was a blast out there,” Walker said.
Newton’s $10 million deal includes $4.5 million fully guaranteed and a $1.5 million roster bonus, The Associated Press has reported. The QB spent the best years of his career with the Panthers before signing with the Patriots before the 2020 season and being released prior to this season.
At least for one week, it appears the deal is worth every penny.
Carolina’s defense had an excellent start when Haason Reddick sacked McCoy and caused a fumble that the Panthers recovered. Reddick played his first four NFL seasons for the Cardinals before signing with the Panthers during the offseason.
The Panthers took over deep in Cardinals territory and converted the turnover into a touchdown when Newton scored on a 2-yard run for a 7-0 lead. The fired-up Newton earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play.
Reddick has 9 1/2 sacks this season.
Carolina’s Zane Gonzalez made field goals from 44, 48 and 49 yards in the first half as the Panthers built their 23-0 lead. He added a 27-yard field goal in the second half.
The Cardinals released Gonzalez in the offseason, electing to let him sign elsewhere after an up-and-down 2020.
Carolina hosts Washington next Sunday.