Panthers quarterback Cam Newton started Sunday’s game with a flurry and ended it with a flourish.
Newton entered play Sunday with a 53.7 completion percentage that ranked ahead of only former Houston quarterback Ryan Mallett, who was last seen looking for an alarm clock and a new team after the Texans cut him.
So naturally, Newton completed his first 11 passes – one short of Steve Beuerlein’s franchise-record 12 straight completions to start a game – and finished with his second-highest completion percentage (80.8) in the Panthers’ 27-10 victory over Tennessee.
Newton completed 21 of 26 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. It was Newton’s 2-yard touchdown run – more of a one-armed stretch across the goal line – that completed the scoring and sent a couple of the Titans linebackers into a snit.
Newton punctuated his touchdown not with his trademark Superman celebration but with a rendition of an Atlanta-born dance called dabbin’ that he extended a little too long for the Titans’ liking.
Avery Williamson first approached Newton to express his displeasure, followed by Wesley Woodyard.
And how did Cam respond? With two final little dance moves as he backed away from Williamson and Woodyard.
“I heard somebody say we’re not going to allow you to do that,” Newton said. “But I’m a firm believer if you don’t like me to do it then don’t let me in (the end zone).”
Put another way: A little dab will do ya.
Newton said his younger brother Caylin, a high school quarterback, encouraged him to break out the dance that started in their Atlanta hometown.
“He always teases me, ‘Hey bro, you need to do something like cool. ... Dab on those folks,’ ” Newton said.
“I try to make my game kid-like so people will see I’m enjoying what I do. I can’t repeat it enough: I’m not doing it to be disrespectful to nobody. I’m more so doing it just to shine a light and give people a smile or just having fun doing what I do.”
The Titans fans who weren’t getting drowned out by the “MVP” chants by the Panthers fans at Nissan Stadium didn’t seem amused. Neither did Tennessee interim coach Mike Mularkey, who thought Newton carried his celebrations a little too far.
“He did it all game, which I guess that’s acceptable,” Mularkey said. “It’s not taunting, but in my mind it is.”
The reaction was decidedly different in the Panthers’ locker room.
Center Ryan Kalil said he doesn’t think Newton’s dances or gestures are any different than Aaron Rodgers’ “discount double-check” celebration.
If Newton is viewed as a polarizing figure now, it’s only going to magnify if Carolina (9-0) keeps winning and more of the country learns about the small-market Panthers and their quarterback with the big personality.
Newton shot down the perception that he’s an inaccurate, no-touch passer Sunday with each successive laser to start the game.
Newton found tight end Greg Olsen for his first four completions before spreading the ball around in his 11-for-11 opening act. Even when Newton was forced to throw a ball away with the pocket breaking down, he got a reprieve when right guard Trai Turner was penalized for being downfield.
The Panthers were leading 14-10 when Newton threw his first incompletion, with 5:37 left in the first half. He was hit as he released the ball, which sailed over the head of wideout Ted Ginn Jr.
Newton had only four other incompletions the rest of the day.
“Today everything was right on the money. Today made catching balls pretty easy,” Olsen said. “For the most part everything was right at your hands. Even if you had to go down to get it, it was super catchable, super easy, friendly balls. It makes playing the receiving position easy.”
Newton’s completion percentage trailed only his 88.2 mark (15 of 17) in a win against St. Louis in 2013.
It helped that the Titans (2-7) were down to their third and fourth cornerbacks after starters Perrish Cox and Jason McCourty were sidelined with injuries.
But the way Newton was firing darts Sunday, it might not have mattered.
After a couple tough weather games in Charlotte, Newton said Sunday’s conditions – overcast and in the 50s – were ideal for passing.
“The last couple games we’ve been playing in tsunamis and things like that,” Newton said, smiling. “We had a beautiful day in Nashville.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Not all of Tennessee’s players were bothered by Newton’s first-down signals and animated dance after his final touchdown. “That’s just how he is,” said linebacker Brian Orakpo, who had one of five sacks on Newton.
Olsen said it seemed like Newton’s “standard demeanor” Sunday.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman – who celebrates touchdowns by riding a pretend horse – put it more colorfully.
“They don’t like the arrogance he brings. They don’t like the showmanship,” Norman said. “Well shoot, stop it. Do something about it.”