Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, right, hugs New York Giants' Odell Beckham (13) after an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Panthers won 38-35. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)
Peter Morgan
December 23, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton is reminding everyone he can beat teams with his right arm.

Newton is viewed as perhaps the NFL's best rushing quarterback, but this year he's putting up Tom Brady-like numbers in the passing game for the unbeaten Carolina Panthers.

Newton has thrown for 3,402 yards and already shattered his career-high with 33 touchdown passes in 14 games. Only Brady, with 35, has thrown for more TD passes than Newton.

The Panthers' QB has been on a tear of late with 18 touchdown passes in the last five games - including three separate five-TD games - and has the league's sixth-best passer rating.

Newton won his fourth NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor this season on Wednesday after throwing for five TDs and leading the game-winning drive in the final minute to beat the New York Giants 38-35 this past weekend.

His success comes as no surprise to coach Ron Rivera, who always felt the former Heisman Trophy winner had the arm strength and savvy to become an elite passer.

''Everybody is so surprised by his ability to throw the football, but when we studied him and looked at him while preparing for the (2001) draft, we came away saying, `Man, he can make all of the throws,''' Rivera said.

Rivera points to one laser-like throw Newton made at Auburn from the far hash mark to the other sideline that he estimated travelled about 35 yards downfield, but at least 60 yards in the air because of the angle throwing across the field.

''That was one of the throws that convinced me he has ability,'' Newton said. ''People don't seem to understand that he threw the ball, and threw it well, at Auburn.''

Newton's NFL-best 40 combined touchdowns and the team's 14-0 record have made him a leading candidate to earn league-MVP honors this season, a notion he quickly dismissed on Wednesday as being ''irrelevant to me right now.''

He said his focus is on his return home to Atlanta on Sunday, where the Panthers can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory or a tie.

''I have no time to even think about it,'' Newton said of the MVP talk.

''He's very deserving to be in that (MVP) conversation,'' Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. ''He's had some opportunities at the end of the game to come through and help the (Panthers) win - whether it was a throw, a pass, a scramble. And so, it's kind of those moments where to finish with (the game) at hand and he was able to capitalize on it - and I think that's a real sign of a guy who's really valuable.''

Newton said there is no magic formula to his improved production, but rather a matter of the team playing well and executing better.

He said being in his fifth year with the Panthers has paid off, too.

Newton burst on the scene as a rookie, throwing for more than 4,000 yards but still had to go through an adjustment period.

The Panthers tinkered with his mechanics and there was still the matter of learning to read NFL defenses. Newton had, after all, only spent one season playing at the Division I level after transferring to Auburn from Blinn College before turning pro.

The team also went to a no-huddle offense late season which Newton finds comfortable.

''We had a style of offense that we liked and we knew that if he was going to truly be our guy we would have to incorporate some of the things that Auburn did, and find the things he liked the most,'' Rivera said.

Newton still leads all quarterbacks with 580 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

But now, five years into his NFL career, he's become a more complete passer - one that some critics wondered if he'd ever become.

All of that hardly matters to Newton.

When asked if he takes added satisfaction in proving the people he can beat them with his arm, Newton smiled and said, ''I take more satisfaction in beating people.''

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