Both teams started the night punting – but once Carolina got the ball back, they embarked on a 90-yard scoring drive led by Newton and company. His target on this play is Steve Smith Sr, whose iconic “ice up, son” quip originated from this game.
Smith runs a simple go route on this snap, and Newton is afforded great protection on his five-step dropback. Though Smith hasn’t separated at this point, Newton’s deep accuracy has always been terrific, so he’s able to anticipate leading Smith with this bomb.
And he does.
This is a beautiful ball on second-and-8 for 42 yards. The coverage from Aqib Talib wasn’t bad on this play – but this is an example where great coverage is beaten by a better throw.
Eight plays later, the Panthers would capitalize on the Newton-Smith connection on a third-and-goal from the 9-yard line.
This time Brandon LaFell is the target and Newton gets an easier, more manageable play as he fires to a wide open LaFell for the score. Let’s look at how it all transpired.
The Panthers dial up a switch concept and Greg Olsen’s route intersects with LaFell’s and clears space for LaFell, allowing him to cross the middle of the field and go into the end zone in a great play execution. The Panthers struck first to go up 7-0 with less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Patriots offense would push inside the red zone on the ensuing drive, but a forced fumble from Kawann Short was recovered by Mario Addison, and the Panthers were able to put more points on the board.
The pinnacle of this drive came on a third-and-6 on Carolina’s own 46, where Newton worked his magic on the ground.
Here, right guard Nate Chandler gets beat by linebacker Dane Fletcher (#52) on a B-gap blitz. Right as Fletcher gets the tiniest bit of pressure, Newton pushes off his right foot…
…and takes off left.
This was a wise decision on Newton’s part because not only was no one open on this play, but New England would also leave a generous amount of free space for Cam to run through, rent-free. With his speed, he’s able to pick up the first down plus an additional 18 bonus yards. Carolina would settle for a field goal, but nevertheless start out with a 10-0 lead on their own soil.
On the Patriots’ next two drives, they scored 10 unanswered points to tie the game up, forcing the Panthers offense to try and respond. On the ensuing drive’s fifth play, a third-and-7, Newton did so – with one of if not the most iconic plays of his career.
This, of course, is the 14-yard scramble where Newton broke every ankle there was to break on the Patriots’ side of the ball. This play calls for maximum looks.
Nate Fletcher is beaten by B-gap pressure again by Rob Ninkovich and once again, the Patriots threaten with what could be an immediate sack.
Newton has other plans, of course, and spins left past the grasp of Ninkovich.
At this moment, Newton is surrounded by two Patriots defenders; Dont’a Hightower (yellow circle) and Ninkovich once again (red circle). He should be commended for getting past Ninkovich once, but could not get lucky twice.
Or so we thought…
Instead of facing Hightower’s direction, Newton decides to jump cut to his left and escapes Ninkovich for a second time.
This time, Newton has a new challenger approaching – and it’s Chandler Jones (yes, THAT Chandler Jones).
Like with Ninkovich and Hightower, Newton makes mincemeat of Jones and dodges the incoming pass rusher.
Finally, Newton is able to take off and run…
…and changes direction to go up the middle of the field, turning what could’ve ended up as a punt and making it a drive-saving first down on of the most improbable plays I’ve seen in the past decade.
“AND THERE GOES CAM”
This is one of those plays where It’s so hard for me to come with words to describe its majesty. I can only sit here with the same dumbfounded expression I had when I saw this live. Screw it, here’s the video:
Up Next: More Majesty