CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton generally operated out of the shotgun, used the zone-read option and rarely had the green light to audible through his first season and a half as an NFL quarterback.
Without the ability to change the play, he had to rely on his feet to get out of trouble.
But earlier this season, coach Ron Rivera said the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff entrusted more at the line of scrimmage to their maturing second-year quarterback.
That maturation was evident Monday in a 30-22 win against the Eagles, when Newton threw for 306 yards, completing 18-of-28 passes for two touchdowns.
“He’s right where you want a second-year quarterback to be,” Rivera said. “He has a lot to do, a lot to learn. People are throwing a lot of different things at him, people are trying to throw things that have worked against him at him and he’s learning those things and how to understand them.
“He has a long way to go. He knows it. We know it. It’s a process for him.
“With as much as (the Eagles) do with the fronts and the stunts and the coverages and checks in the coverages, it was a tough game, and he made a lot of good decisions.”
Newton finished with his second-best passer rating of the season (125.0) Monday and his first 300-plus-yard passing game in which the Panthers won.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said Newton is passing and carrying the ball the same amount as before the Panthers decided to lighten his load.
That call came around the time of the Panthers’ bye in Week 6, which saw Carolina effectively phase out the zone-read.
The staff has had built-in double calls for Newton at the line, but rarely had Newton called an audible. Against Philadelphia, he made several audibles at the line that Chudzinski said were all good checks to make.
“One thing he did do a little bit more of yesterday was change a couple plays at the line of scrimmage,” Rivera said. “I think he’s starting to get comfortable with those things. As he improves and learns those things, I think he’ll get better and better.”
Those reads helped Newton in the second half, when he went 10-for-14 for 170 yards and converted five of eight third downs.
“As a quarterback, your No. 1 goal is to be a game manager and, for me, I feel as if I was just trying to take everything that the defense gave me through the air and on the ground,” Newton said Monday night. “So anything to keep those chains moving, especially in a hostile environment.”
Newton said his next step is to establish consistency. Veteran offensive tackle and team captain Jordan Gross noted Newton’s leadership and said Monday night “the sky’s the limit” for him.
“He’s relaxed and not trying to carry everything, not trying to be perfect,” wide receiver Steve Smith said Monday. “When you try to be everything is perfect, you’re going to screw that up every time. So just come in there and just relax.”