by: LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer Updated:
DETROIT, M.I. - Cam Newton wore a black hat with a white button on the left side to honor Rosie the Riveter before and after showing he was very focused on football.
The embattled quarterback threw three touchdowns through three quarters, helping the Carolina Panthers build a lead big enough to hold off the Detroit Lions for a 27-24 win Sunday.
Newton came under fire for making sexist comments to a female reporter this week. He apologized after losing an endorsement deal and getting criticized by the NFL.
The 2015 NFL MVP said he put Rosie the Riveter, flexing her right arm, on his hat after doing homework to learn her iconic impact on World War II.
"I just wanted to have a little notion, a shout out, to all the strong women," Newton said.
He was 26 of 33 for a season-high 335 yards. On perhaps the game's key play, he converted a third-and-9 from the Carolina 24 with a sharp, 17-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 2:00 left while clinging to a three-point lead against a team out of timeouts.
Newton threw a 6-yard TD pass to rookie Christian McCaffrey to pull the Panthers into a 10-10 tie early in the second quarter and a 10-yard pass to Devin Funchess for a tiebreaking score with 48 seconds left in the first half. With a perfectly lofted 31-yard pass to Benjamin, Newton put Carolina up 24-10 early in the third.
"He did a real nice job under some unfortunate circumstances," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.
The Panthers (4-1) scored 24 straight points after trailing the Lions 10-3 early in the second quarter. Detroit rallied, but could not stop Newton on his last drive to get the ball back.
Detroit (3-2) struggled to move the ball in the air and on the ground until late in the game.
Matthew Stafford, limping after being sacked and hit a lot, threw a 4-yard TD pass to tight end Darren Fells with 5:56 left and a 20-yard pass for a score to the former professional basketball player with 3:22 to go. The quarterback didn't have as much success connecting with starting tight end Eric Ebron, who dropped a pass in the end zone and had another pass go through his hands.
Even though Ebron has a history of dropping passes, Detroit coach Jim Caldwell insisted he's not concerned about it.
"No one was perfect out there, and he came back in the game and made a catch or two, so I wouldn't say it is in his head," Caldwell said. "Obviously, it is not what you want to see, but he wasn't our problem."
Protecting Stafford has become an issue. He has been sacked six times in two straight games after being sacked a total of just six times over his first three games.
"Getting hit one time is too many, so that was clearly a problem," Caldwell said. "Matthew is always going to battle, and so are his teammates, but we clearly have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback. That involves a lot of people, though, not just the offensive line."
TAKING A BREAK
Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue was not working in the Ford Field press box during the Panthers-Detroit Lions game.
"Taking some time off," Mike Persinger, the executive sports editor of The Charlotte Observer, wrote in an email.
Rodrigue asked Newton about Funchess' route running on Wednesday and Carolina's quarterback laughed and said, "It's funny to hear a female talk about routes. It's funny."
Newton declined to provide much of a comment about her absence at the game.
"That's personal," he said.
Panthers tight end Ed Dickson had five receptions for a career-high 175 yards, a total that surpassed his production from each of the previous three seasons with the Panthers. He had 64- and 57-yard catches in the first half for two of his three receptions of 50-plus yards in his eight-year career. Clearly, Dickson is making the most of an opportunity to play for injured starter Greg Olsen.
"I'm pretty sure I've got a text from him right now," he said. "I know he's proud of me. I'm just holding it down for him."
Panthers: CB Daryl Worley had an ankle injury in the third quarter, but was able to finish the game.
Lions: Stafford played through what appeared to be an ankle injury and DT Haloti Ngata left with an elbow injury.
Panthers: Host Philadelphia on Thursday night.
Lions: Play at New Orleans next Sunday.
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