Recapping the rest of Sunday:
• Newton is pretty good at shutting out the outside world, apparently. Newton had an MVP-vintage game in the 27-24 win at Detroit: 26 of 33, 355 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. And the Carolina offense, for the first time this year, showed every aspect of what GM Dave Gettleman tried to build before getting fired in July. Isolate on one play, the six-yard shovel-pass touchdown from Newton to rookie Christian McCaffrey. Newton’s physical presence, and his speed, and the speed elsewhere on offense, made the play happen. At the snap of the ball, rookie wideout Curtis Samuel came in motion from the left. Newton snapped the ball and faked the jet-sweep handoff to Samuel. Newton ran to the left, with Jonathan Stewart to his outside shoulder, as though the Panthers were running the read-option. Two defenders committed to Newton and Stewart, and suddenly Newton stopped short and shoveled the ball to McCaffrey between two defenders. Easy touchdown. What made the play work? Newton’s physicality and his speed threatened the defense. Stewart must be respected as a back running wide. Samuel distracted the D with his motion. And McCaffrey just snuck in for a fairly easy touchdown. At least it looked easy. That’s the kind of play that foretells trouble for future defenses, with the injection of speed and Newton’s post-shoulder-injury health. “Atlanta’s run it sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. “Pitt ran it in college. We’ve seen it. But there’s a lot of good options to it for our offense.”
Shula said he didn’t talk much to Newton about the controversy of the week (more about that later in the column), his belittling of a female reporter. “Luke Kuechly and some of the guys picked his spirits up, I think,” Shula said. “Me and [backup] Derek Anderson and [QB coach] Ken Dorsey were like, ‘You okay?’ And he said he was. We moved on. He’s just so happy today. He loves winning. I don’t think he lets things bother him the way we might think.”
• Thursday night in Charlotte: Eagles (4-1) at Panthers (4-1). We’re seeing Carson Wentz mature before our eyes. And though Arizona looks like it was overrated entering the year, it was still impressive, Wentz waxing the Cardinals on three straight drives to open the game 21-0 after a quarter on the way to a 34-7 win. “What we do well,” Wentz said afterward, “is mix it up well—play action, empty backfield, find where the mismatches are. We came out firing and never let up.” Wentz showed some carelessness last year down the stretch, rushing and trying to force too many throws. Now you watch him, and see the quick but not careless working through progressions. Some young quarterbacks rush and have nervous feet. Not Wentz. His touchdown to Nelson Agholor down the left sideline was the right decision, placed perfectly. Thursday’s going to be fun to watch, two young quarterbacks duking it out. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Cam,” said Wentz. “I’ve watched him a lot. A lot to like.”
• Random thought of the week. The Cleveland Browns, in the past two drafts, bypassed Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. They are seventh, ninth and 12th in the NFL in passer rating this morning … with a combined touchdown-to-interception ration of 29 to 10. The Brown had better love one of the quarterbacks coming out in the draft next April.
• Speaking of Watson … You might have expected the post-game locker room in Houston—after the devastation of losing defensive stalwarts J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the year, after losing for the third time in five games—to be relatively hopeless. That’s not the way one observer saw this locker room Sunday night, at 2-3 and without local hero Watt and rising star Mercilus. That’s because for the first time in years, the Texans think they’ve found the most difficult franchise centerpiece to find in quarterback Deshaun Watson. On Sunday night, with the crowd in mourning after the loss of Watt with a broken leg that will require surgery as soon as Monday, Watson didn’t succumb to the emotions of the night. He led the Texans to 27 points in the second half, throwing four touchdown passes and keeping the Texans in a shootout with the best team in football. Watson is leaving his mark after just four starts: