CHARLOTTE, N .C. – A lot went through Cam Newton's mind on Sunday as he stood on the Carolina Panthers’ logo at Bank of America Stadium, pretending to spread his No. 1 jersey to reveal the “S’’ on his chest, as he did so many times during his first go-around with Carolina.
There was the exhilaration of the frenzied crowd, not just about the quarterback’s 24-yard touchdown run but about having the Panthers' iconic leader home doing the things that for most of his first nine (2011-2019) NFL seasons made him special.
There also was the memory of what Newton called his “Resurrection Day,’’ the anniversary of his Nov. 21, 2008 arrest for stealing a laptop while at the University of Florida.
“I took a big ‘L’ in my life,’’ Newton recalled of the arrest. “I feel like it was a big scar that ended up being my biggest scar. I was incarcerated. ... I was just going to enjoy the moment [of scoring Sunday]. I still am going to enjoy the moment.’’
Newton took a different “L’’ on Sunday, a 27-21 loss to the Washington Football Team (4-6) and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera. It hurt, as he admitted during his postgame press conference, but not so much that he feels scarred like he did in jail 13 years ago.
Newton, 32, bounced back from that to win a junior college national championship at Binn and national championship at Auburn. He led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015 before falling in the title game.
He’s focused on doing everything he can to bounce from Sunday’s loss that left Carolina with a 5-6 record and on the outside of the playoff picture.
“We’ve just got to find ways to sustain the standard,’’ Newton said. “It’s really going to be down to our leaders and holding people accountable.’’
The Panthers didn’t lose because of Newton, who completed 21 of 27 pass attempts for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed 10 times for 46 yards and a touchdown.
They lost because of seven penalties for 65 yards, several of which negated big Christian McCaffrey runs. They lost because of a bad snap on third-and-1 that went to McCaffrey instead of Newton.
They lost because a defense ranked second in the NFL gave up 190 yards rushing and couldn’t stop another former Carolina quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, on two fourth-down plays.
“Cam was excellent,’’ Carolina coach Matt Rhule said. “He managed everything. He got through the progressions. The [24-yard touchdown] throw he made to Christian was elite.
“For where we are, for being a week into it, I thought he did a nice job.’’
Newton signed a one-year deal to finish out the season only a week and a half go. He had only one full week of practice in which he learned just a small portion of the playbook.
Rhule’s decision to call timeout with 3:05 remaining and go for it, instead of punt on fourth-and-3, was predicated on Newton not having time to fully grasp the two-minute offense.
Newton’s pass to McCaffrey came up less than a foot short of the first down.
He had another chance on fourth-and-3 with 1:11 remaining, but when he took off running, a lineman fell off his block and Washington got a sack.
Rivera, who’d seen Newton perform miracles before, admitted his team caught the 2015 NFL MVP at the right time.
“We caught them before Cam really gets into the playbook,’’ he said. “We were fortunate. I know they’ll get more efficient as they go along, and he gets more and more into that playbook.’’
Time is running out, though, as the Panthers (5-6) enter Week 12 on the road (where they are 3-2) at the 4-7 Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, FOX). After their Week 13 bye, they have the Atlanta Falcons (4-6) at home, Buffalo Bills (6-4) on the road, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) at home and then road games at the New Orleans Saints (5-5) and Bucs (6-3).
They are in a large group of teams with five wins vying for the seventh playoff spot in the NFC. That two of those teams are Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, who beat Carolina at home, doesn’t help when it comes to tiebreakers.
But Newton was a part of a Carolina team that in 2014 won its final four games to win the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record, and then won a playoff game.
So he hasn’t given up hope. He just has to find a way to raise the level of a lot of young, inexperienced players around him to a higher level.
One of the places Newton will start is third down. The Panthers were 2 of 9, which he called “unacceptable.’’
“Coach brought that up, mentioning early in the week that it was going to come down to early success on first down, third-down conversions and staying on the field offensively, and defensively getting them off the field,’’ Newton said. “And from what I saw, we did none of those things. It’s all about accountability.’’
Accountability is part of what ran through Newton’s mind on the logo.
“My life could be who knows where right now if the judge didn’t rule the way he did,’’ said Newton, who had his 2008 charges dropped. “God had favor over my life, and that’s the big picture. That’s the realization over things you can control.
“I’m enjoying the moment. We just ... I have to be better.’’