FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – Some NFL teams might underplay what a win in Week 4 of the regular season could mean for their overall prospects. Not the Carolina Panthers.
A week after being thumped in a 21-point loss to New Orleans, Cam Newton ignited what had been a mostly dormant offense over the first three weeks in a 33-30 win Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
“You build off this kind of momentum. And you have to take it and use it now,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You can’t waste it.”
The Panthers certainly didn’t leave anything on the field Sunday.
Carolina finished with 444 total yards. It had entered the day ranked 28th in the NFL, averaging just 277 yards per game.
Newton threw for three scores and ran for another to put Carolina in front. Then, after the Patriots tied the game late, the 2015 league MVP then drove his team 46 yards over 10 plays to set up Graham Gano’s winning 48-yard field goal.
This marks just the fifth time that Carolina has started 2-0 on the road. Two of those previous times, 2015 and 2003, they went on to reach the Super Bowl.
Newton scored his 50th touchdown rushing, the only quarterback in NFL history to do so. He pumped his fist to “signify Black Power” after his rushing touchdown, a gesture he said he decided to do to show the joy he has when he plays.
It came on a day when several NFL players chose to abandon taking a knee during the national anthem.
“I pray every night for God to give me a pinnacle to give people hope,” Newton said. “I did it … to show black pride because I am African-American. But more or less, I want all people to just see when I play I want them to see the joy that I go out there and play with. Win, lose or draw it was a great win for us today. ”
While the Panthers felt they discovered something about themselves, the Patriots suddenly have two losses in the first four weeks of the season . Both at home.
It marked the second time since 2012 that quarterback Tom Brady has lost two starts at home in the same season.
The offense has scored at least 30 points in three of New England’s four games. But the defense has struggled, having surrendered 30 points or more three times already.
What’s mystifying is how many of the Patriots’ mistakes have been self-inflicted. They had seven penalties for 55 yards on Sunday, including two penalties on Carolina’s winning drive.
Issues aside, tight end Rob Gronkowski said it’s nothing that can’t be turned around, even if the offensive numbers they are putting up aren’t enough right now.
“We always have a sense of urgency here,” he said. “We always want to go out as an offense and put up points. … But you gotta be patient, too. You gotta be patient at times. You gotta keep putting the work in. Keep on grinding, keep on coming together as a team and get better.”
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower returned to action Sunday after missing two games with a knee injury. He had two tackles, but one was a late sack on Newton to set up New England’s tying drive.
Rivera said last week one of the things holding back the Panthers’ offense was that amount of practice time Newton missed in training camp coming off offseason shoulder surgery. He said he’d been pleased with strides his quarterback made last week, but “he was still a little rusty” early on.
Newton credited the game plan.
“It was all about execution,” Newton said. “They were targeting (Kelvin Benjamin), and Christian (McCaffrey), having a plan for them. We just wanted to make sure that when we had got the good looks, we would execute. ‘Fun Fun’ (Devin Funchess) had a great game. They kept the game moving forward.”
Newton became the Panthers’ all-time winningest quarterback with 54 career wins, passing Jake Delhomme. He also recorded the 15th 300-yard passing game of his career. It marked the first time he has thrown for 300 or more yards with a 75 percent completion rate. His quarterback rating of 130.8 was his second highest on the road in his career.
MOVING ON UP
Gronkowski’s 43-yard reception in the second quarter moved him past Wes Welker for most receiving yards from Tom Brady, and past Troy Brown for the third-most receiving yards (6,413) in team history.
He finished with four catches for 80 yards.