CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton and the Panthers are proving they can win without throwing the ball deep down the field.
The 2015 league MVP has attempted 16 passes - and completed just three - that have traveled longer than 20 yards in the air this season, according the NFL's Next Gen stats. That's far fewer than most other NFL quarterbacks. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, for instance, has completed 17 of 42 passes beyond 20 yards, with eight of those going for touchdowns.
Newton said the lack of vertical passing game isn't something he's concerned with entering Sunday's home game against the Ravens (4-3), especially with his team 4-2 this season.
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"When you are moving the ball, people say why aren't you taking many shots downfield?" Newton said. "When you take too many shots downfield and it's not there and you start forcing the ball, they say why can't you protect the ball? So our thing is we turn our ears to mute and take what the defense is giving us. When we have opportunities to take shots down the field trust and believe nobody loves touchdowns more than I do - and if it's there I'm going to take it."
Added Newton: "If not, you just live to fight another day."
Coach Ron Rivera likes that approach, saying he is just fine with how Newton is playing. Newton has completed 11 touchdown passes this season and has four interceptions and has a solid 94.7 QB rating.
"I think the quarterback is very efficient with (the ball) right now," Rivera said. "There's no reason to panic."
The formula seems to be working for the Panthers, who are winning games behind Newton's heroics.
Three weeks ago against the Giants the eighth-year QB rallied Carolina back in the final seconds, leading a drive that set up Graham Gano's winning 63-yard field goal. This past Sunday Newton brought the Panthers back from a 17-0 deficit on the road against the Super Bowl champion Eagles with three TD drives to finish the game, earning him his 10th career NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor on Wednesday.
Rivera said when the game is on the line Newton has the same mentality as Michael Jordan, a six-time NBA champion who many still consider the best basketball player of all time.
"He'll come up and say, 'Put it in my hands, coach. Trust me,'" Rivera said of Newton. "Michael Jordan used to say, 'Certain guys want the ball when it's crunch time. Other guys just don't seem to come off the picks the way they're supposed to.' I've told that to Cam, and Cam has always wanted the ball."
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Although the Panthers still looking stagnant at times on offense - including the first three quarters against the Eagles when they managed just seven first downs and no points - Newton seems adjusting well to new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, which features more check downs and screen plays than the Panthers have typically run in the past.
"When we get into the logistic things of football, and what the defense is giving and what they aren't, you can't just go down and chuck the football downfield and just expect, 'Well, we didn't take shots in the game,'" Newton said. "That's not what good teams or offenses do. We don't let the defense dictate to us, we dictate to the defense. So that's been our approach."
With the emphasis focused on shorter routes, Newton is completing a career-high 65.6 percent of his passes, well above his career average of 58.9 percent.
So while Newton says he likes the big play as much as anyone, he seems fine with Turner's philosophy - as long as the Panthers are winning games.
"Whatever Norv and his offensive staff calls it's my job as the quarterback to execute it," Newton said. "If I see anything otherwise, it's my job to make the proper audible. If not, then run the play."
Baltimore Ravens safety Eric Weddle likened Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to a "fast dinosaur" this week.
"Muscular and big," Weddle said. "He's a very unique quarterback in the league, the only one really like him."
The Ravens' defense ranks first in the league overall, but they've not faced a dual-threat quarterback such as Newton, which adds some intrigue to what should be a physical game Sunday between two teams that pride themselves on playing great defense and ball-control offense.
Weddle said when Newton gets loose, bringing him down calls for a player to proceed at his own risk. He chose the Triceratops as the kind of dinosaur that best represents Newton.
"The big one with horns," Weddle said.
Newton is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdowns rushing by a quarterback and is third all-time in yards rushing with 4,577. He needs 352 yards to pass Randall Cunningham for second place. Mike Vick is No. 1 with 6,109 yards.
"Amazing player, extremely difficult in the open field," Weddle said of Newton.
Newton laughed at Weddell's compliment, saying it's not the first time someone has called him that. The 2015 league MVP said Trooper Taylor, a former assistant at Auburn, used to call him that when he was playing for the Tigers.
"I always asked him, 'Why do you call me a dinosaur?'" Newton said. "He said, 'Your talent is extinct. They don't make them like you no more.'
"I always laughed, but if you look around this league - and I've tried to warn a lot of people prior, too - it not cocky, it's not confidence, it's just self-belief in yourself knowing that the talents that you possess, a lot of people can't say that they have."
Newton has run for 252 yards and a team-high three touchdowns this season while averaging 4.9 yards per carry for Carolina (4-2). He's also thrown for 11 TDs.
Things to watch in Sunday's game between the Ravens and Panthers:
Newton won't be the only quarterback on the field to be a threat to run.
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has proven effective as an occasional replacement for Joe Flacco in short-yardage situations for the Ravens (4-3). The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick scored his first NFL touchdown last week and ranks second on the team with 103 yards rushing.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said Jackson "is a playmaker who creates problems because of his speed and athleticism" and that "it's important to know where he is on the field."
Harbaugh often wrestles with finding the right time to use Jackson because Flacco is having such a good season with 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions.
"It's more an art than science," Harbaugh said. "Joe is playing at a very high level. We don't want to lose sight of that. We try to do the best we can to put both those guys in there in ways that help us score points and move the ball."
COVERING TIGHT ENDS
The Ravens drafted Hayden Hurst in the first round figuring he would play a major role on the offense, but a foot injury has limited him to one catch for 7 yards. Now rounding back into good health, he may have an opportunity to break out this week against a Carolina defense that has struggled covering tight ends.
Carolina has allowed the sixth-most passing yards to tight ends in the NFL at 79.6 per game. Last week, Philadelphia's Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined for eight receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown.
Coach Ron Rivera said he was unconcerned with those numbers, adding that he feels as if the Panthers have done a good job against opposing wide receivers this year, which has been their focus. Rivera added that "I don't think for the most part you're going to get killed by tight ends."
STELLAR PASS RUSHERS
Sunday's matchup features two stellar pass rushers with Carolina's Julius Peppers and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs. Peppers has 156½ sacks, which is fourth all-time and the most among active players. Suggs is 15th all-time with 131 sacks.
"Those kinds of guys are just on a different level athletically," Harbaugh said. "There aren't very many of those types of human beings walking around on the planet."
Two of the Ravens' losses this season have come by a combined four points. Cleveland won with a field goal in overtime, and the Saints prevailed when Justin Tucker misfired on a conversion with 24 seconds last week.
So what's it take to win those kinds of games?
"You have to make a closing play somewhere along the way," Harbaugh said.
The Panthers seem to have that skill. Their past two wins were 33-31 over the Giants and 21-17 last week.
Tucker's extra point miss last week was big for the Ravens, but he's not the only one struggling with the point after.
Carolina's Graham Gano has missed extra points in back-to-back weeks. Strangely enough, Gano is 8 of 8 on field-goal attempts, including a game-winner from 63 yards against the Giants.
BALTIMORE (4-3) at CAROLINA (4-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
OPENING LINE - Ravens by 2
RECORD VS. SPREAD - Ravens 4-3, Panthers 3-3
SERIES RECORD - Panthers lead 3-2
LAST MEETING - Ravens beat Panthers 38-10, Sept. 28, 2014
LAST WEEK - Ravens lost to Saints 24-23; Panthers beat Eagles 21-17
AP PRO32 RANKING - Ravens No. 9, Panthers No. 7 (tie)
RAVENS OFFENSE - OVERALL (9), RUSH (24), PASS (9)
RAVENS DEFENSE - OVERALL (1), RUSH (7), PASS (2)
PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (18), RUSH (4), PASS (22)
PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (13), RUSH (9), PASS (17)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES - Fourth road trip in five games for Ravens. ... Baltimore has allowed 101 points, lowest total through seven games since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008. ... Ravens lead NFL in fewest yards (280.6 per game) and fewest points (14.4) allowed. ... Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith with 5½ sacks each of Baltimore's NFL-best 27 total. ... Ravens QB Joe Flacco's 2,067 yards passing most of career through seven games. .. Ravens have scored at least 21 points in 15 of last 16 games. ... Baltimore's nine rushing TDs tied for third in NFL. ... Ravens P Sam Koch to play in 200th consecutive game. ... Baltimore CB Brandon Carr has 167 straight starts, longest active streak among defensive players. ... Ravens have minus-1 turnover differential. Since 2000, Baltimore is 28-84 when turnover differential is negative. ... Ravens WR John Brown leads team with 558 yards receiving and four TD catches. ... Michael Crabtree leads Ravens with 35 catches. He's one of nine active NFL WRs with more than 600 career receptions. ... Baltimore K Justin Tucker now career 222 for 223 on extra points after fourth-quarter miss last week at end of game. His 90 percent success rate on FGs is best in NFL history. ... Panthers have won eight straight at home. Last home loss was Oct. 12, 2017 vs. Eagles. ... QB Cam Newton has engineered 15 career fourth-quarter comebacks. ... Panthers' 17-point fourth quarter comeback vs. Eagles last Sunday was largest in franchise history. ... Newton has four TDs rushing in past four home games. ... Christian McCaffrey one of three RBs with more than 40 catches and 350 yards rushing. Others are Saints' Alvin Kamara and Giants' Saquon Barkley. ... LB Luke Kuechly had 14 tackles vs. Eagles, including four for losses. ... DE Mario Addison leads Panthers with 4½ sacks. ... Panthers have 58 interceptions since start of 2015 season, second most in NFL. Kansas City has 63. ... K Graham Gano has missed an extra point in last two games. He's 8 of 8 on field goals, including career-long 63-yarder vs. Giants. ... Fantasy tip: Newton has 13 TDs (nine passing, four rushing) and 105.8 QB rating in last four games vs. AFC foes.
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