Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton expressed just one regret about somersaulting his way into the end zone against the Houston Texans last weekend.
“I just hate that I didn’t stick it,” Newton said of the landing.
Newton's frontward flip into the end zone over a Texans defensive back on a quarterback draw proved to be the go-ahead touchdown in Carolina's 24-17 win and quickly was trending on Twitter during the game. The NFL featured it as its best running play of the week.
It was vintage Newton – and more proof the fifth-year quarterback is healthier after battling through ankle, rib and back injuries that kept him out of two games last season and limited his mobility in others.
New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who’ll face the 6ft 5in (1.95m), 245-pound (111kg) Newton this Sunday in Charlotte, called the two-time pro bowler an “athletic freak”.
“A lot of quarterbacks don’t have the body to do that,” Vaccaro said. “He’s fearless, man.”
But a few Saints players, including Vaccaro, appeared to question why Newton would risk injury considering how valuable he is to the Panthers.
“I don’t know how much you want to do that when you’re paying the guy that much – if you want to do that with your franchise quarterback,” Vaccaro said. “But they’re effective with it so we’ll be ready for it.”
Saints outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said he was impressed with Newton’s aerial acrobatics, but added: “Good for him that he thinks that’s a good thing to do. I don’t know that I would have the courage to do that, just because it’s a long season. But if you can do it, do it.”
Despite giving Newton a five-year, $103.8 million (Dh381.2m) contract extension earlier this off-season, coach Ron Rivera isn’t putting any restrictions on Newton’s running – at least for now.
While the fifth-year coach said that, like Newton, “my heart was in my socks” as he watched his quarterback go head over feet into the end zone high above the ground, he can’t help but appreciate the passion with which Newton plays the game.
And he doesn’t want to see that change.
“You don’t want to take away what makes him who he is,” Rivera said.
Newton acknowledges he was “honestly scared” at the peak of his leap, but was caught up in the moment at the time of the leap.
Although he wasn’t injured on the play, Newton knew immediately he’d be taking as much criticism for the play as he would praise for his athleticism.
But he’s given up on trying to win in the court of public opinion.
“I am in a lose-lose situation right here, fellas,” said Newton, whose 34 career touchdowns rushing are ninth all-time among quarterbacks. “If I were to run him over, and something were to happen, then it’s like, ‘God, you got to be more conscientious about how you run,’ and ‘Cam’s running too much’.”
The reality is the Panthers are a better team when Newton runs the football.
Carolina are 12-3-1 in five seasons when Newton carries at least 10 times in a game and 20-28 when he doesn’t, according to STATS. Similarly, the Panthers are 18-6-1 when Newton runs for at least 50 yards and 14-25 when he doesn’t.
Saints coach Sean Payton called Newton extremely athletic and competitive, two traits he treasures in a quarterback.
“He understands what it takes to win each week,” Payton said. “Sometimes that can vary but that is the one thing that you see in him. That was a pretty amazing play.”
Panthers centre Ryan Kalil was blocking for Newton on the play and didn’t see what happened. When he got to the sideline, a teammate told him “look up at the scoreboard – you won’t believe this”.
“I watched it and thought, one out of a hundred tries could I ever do anything like that,” Kalil said.
As for the other 99 tries?
“It wouldn’t have been good,” Kalil joked.
Newton said he had plenty of messages on his phone after the game but no more than usual.
He did briefly converse with his friend and NBA MVP Stephen Curry, who attended Sunday’s game. He said Curry told him the play was “cool”.
Newton has no intentions of relaxing on his aggressive approach to the game.
“The best is still yet to come,” Newton promised.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE