Gruden: Panthers QB Newton deserves MVP consideration

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton only seems to be getting better - and more confident - as the Carolina Panthers' perfect season progresses.

Newton threw for five touchdowns and the Panthers beat the Washington Redskins 44-16 on Sunday to improve to 10-0 on the season and take a four-game lead in the NFC South over the Atlanta Falcons.

''What more can you say - the guy's been playing at a very elite level right now,'' tight end Greg Olsen said. ''Playing the quarterback position, there's no other quarterback that's asked to do what he has to do, both run and pass. He's playing as good a ball as there is in the league right now.''

Newton has thrown for 20 touchdowns and run for six more this season.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he believes Newton should be among those in the league MVP discussion.

''If you are the starting quarterback on a football team that is 10-0 then you should be getting consideration,'' Gruden said. ''This is a very difficult game and he's handling every situation, third downs, he's protecting the ball and doing a great job.''

Newton shook off the MVP talk, turning the praise toward his teammates.

He said his main focus now is on the team's Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas and the team continuing to improve.

''The first drive we had three and out. We can't allow that to happen,'' Newton said. ''We can't allow ourselves to get lax. Winning covers up a lot of things and we can't get complacent with the victories. More importantly we have to get better.''

Some things we learned from Redskins-Panthers game:

REDSKINS RUN GAME: The Panthers defense established a new franchise-record by holding the Redskins to 14 yards rushing on 12 carries. They also forced three fumbles, including one in which Luke Kuechly jarred the ball away from rookie Matt Jones. Jones saw added action after Alfred Morris left the game in the first quarter with a rib injury.

Jones' fumble problems are becoming an issue for the Redskins.

''He wants every play to be a touchdown, and you love that competitive fire about him,'' Gruden said. ''We just have to continue to teach him how to secure the ball and the importance of that ball. It is an issue. You can't turn the ball over if you are a running back no matter how big you are or how little you are, you have to protect the football. We are not going to give up on Matt, but he has to understand the importance of that ball.''

It's unclear how long Morris will be out.

SACK ATTACK: The Panthers have 22 sacks in the last six games, including five against the Redskins. They've also forced 14 fumbles and recovered seven, several of those on strip-sacks. The Panthers have done it without their top pass rusher, Charles Johnson, who is eligible to return Thursday against Dallas after missing the last eight weeks on short-term injured reserve with a hamstring injury. ''C.J. is one of the most fierce, respected all-down lineman in this league,'' Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy said. ''When he comes back he is going to open up even more for us.''

STEWART ON THE RUN: Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this past week he wanted to begin to limit Jonathan Stewart's carries as the season progresses to save his body. But that didn't happen on Sunday as Stewart carried 21 times for 102 yards and caught a 12-yard touchdown pass. Stewart has carried the ball at least 20 times in each of Carolina's last six games.

BIG RETURN: The Panthers still have some flaws, particular on special teams where they allowed a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Earlier this season Carolina allowed a 74-yard punt return for a score.

FUNCHESS IMPROVING: The Panthers are getting improved play out of rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess, who started in place of the injured Philly Brown and had four catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.

''I like the routes that he ran. More importantly though I like the way he went after the football, very Kelvin-esc in terms of trying to make plays,'' Rivera said referring to Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who is on injured reserve.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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