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Cam Newton reminds us how marvelously talented he is

His issues with the media aside, Panthers quarterback continues to deliver

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — It doesn’t take long for Cam Newton to remind one how spectacularly talented he is, and exactly why the Carolina Panthers still tolerate his missteps with the media after all these years. Whether he’s taking flight on a 9-yard touchdown run that no other NFL quarterback would dare even contemplate or delivering a perfect deep ball for a big gain, Newton is usually the most physically gifted player on the field.

And when things are as good for the Panthers as they were after Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, their NFC South rivals, Newton is the total package: upbeat, engaging and, most importantly, the all-around leader he’s capable of being. But it’s during the other times, when Newton and the Panthers fail to shine, that he sometimes falls short of the mark.

In a rough three-week stretch off the field in October, Newton firmly inserted his foot into his mouth by making sexist comments to a female reporter, failed to fulfill his media obligations on consecutive days and abruptly walked out of a news conference. Clearly, the 2015 Associated Press NFL MVP, who also was roundly criticized for cutting short a news conference after the Panthers’ loss in Super Bowl 50, has had better months.

Warren Moon, the only African-American quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a onetime adviser to Newton, remains hopeful that his former protégé is capable of doing better. “You’re not going to have great games every week. And as a quarterback, you’re going to be questioned on everything that you do, especially with him because he tends to be so flamboyant and so celebratory when things are going well,” Moon said. “He just kind of opens himself up for it when things aren’t going well. People are going to come back and pick on him, so to speak. He’s got to be willing to deal with all of that.”

His issues with the media aside, however, Newton continues to deliver for the Panthers, who improved to 6-3 in the division and are only a half-game behind the South-leading New Orleans Saints. The defending NFC champion Falcons continued to struggle, dropping to 4-4.

In a stunner, with Atlanta trailing 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter, superstar wide receiver Julio Jones was uncovered when he dropped what would have been a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan. It has been that type of season for head coach Dan Quinn’s squad. “He’s made tons of plays,” Quinn said. “He’s going to make tons more.”

At a postgame news conference, Newton was as professional as he was typically dapper. Wearing a white shirt, dark blue vest, gray striped blazer accessorized with a dark blue carnation and a beige wide-brimmed hat, Newton fielded a volley of questions from reporters, providing insightful answers.

He was pleased about the team’s overall effort in its first game without former No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin — Panthers management wasn’t interested in committing to Benjamin long term — who was sent to the Buffalo Bills in advance of last week’s NFL trading deadline. Newton, who also has been without tight end Greg Olsen since he broke his foot in Week 2, passed for only 137 yards, but he connected five times for 86 yards with wideout Devin Funchess. Their longest play was a 33-yard gain in the third quarter on a picturesque deep ball down the middle from Newton.

Funchess, who assumes Benjamin’s former spot in the offense, “can give you those yards after catch. Very savvy” player, Newton said. “He’s just growing into that role. That’s what you love to see.”

The Panthers’ performance in the running game produced Newton’s biggest smile.

With Newton totaling a game-high 86 yards on only nine rushes, Carolina had 201 net yards and an impressive 5.3-yard average. The Falcons had only 53 net yards rushing and a poor 2.9-yard average.

Just before halftime, Newton added to his already lengthy career highlight tape. He scrambled to his right, took off from the 3-yard line and dunked the ball on the helmet of Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant as it broke the goal line for a touchdown. Trailing 10-0 after the first quarter, the Panthers returned to the locker room with a 14-10 lead.

With his team trailing by double digits and fans growing increasingly restless, Newton encouraged both the Panthers and the crowd to get hyped.

“When the Panthers are emotionless, good things don’t happen,” Newton said. “Whether you’ve got to fake it, whether you’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do, if we can get Bank of America Stadium with a pulse, that’s when we’re at our best.

“And that’s all I was trying to do. Just get everybody involved … being optimistic. Knowing that we’re gonna drive, we’re gonna claw, we’re gonna keep pounding throughout this whole game … just trying to win football games at a fast and rapid pace.”

Finally getting rookie running back Christian McCaffrey more involved consistently could accelerate the process. In his best game as a pro, the former Stanford All-American rushed for 66 yards on 15 carries (a 4.4-yard average) and scored his first rushing touchdown.

From Newton’s vantage point, watching McCaffrey get rolling was great. “He’s a dynamic player,” Newton said. “You can kind of feel the vibe around him.”

Newton should know. When things are going well, that’s the way it is with him too.

After the victory, Newton changed at his dressing stall while singing along to Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” For the Panthers, Newton is irreplaceable. But he can still be better.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.