Welcome to the Cam Newton Era

As a blizzard slammed into the east coast of the United States and temperatures across the region plummeted, the flame in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina that is Cam Newton burned hotter than ever.

On Sunday night, with a trip to Super Bowl 50 on the line, Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers demolished the second-seeded Arizona Cardinals by a final score of 49-15 in a game that was never close.

In the biggest game of his life, Newton put on a show and outshined everyone else in the stadium. The Cardinals looked on paper to be so evenly matched with the Panthers going in. Arizona ranked just behind Carolina in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The teams had very similar hard-nosed defenses that swarmed to the ball and made you pay dearly for every inch of turf. Both offenses were high powered with bruising running backs and wide receivers that were always liable to break off a huge play.

In fact, due to the superiority of Arizona’s division, and Carolina’s exceptionally soft schedule, there were a lot of people that would tell you Arizona was actually the better team. So what would be the difference? How would these two teams, so evenly matched, determine a winner?

The difference maker, it turned out, was Cam.

Newton diced an exceptional Cardinals defense to the tune of 19 completions for 355 yards and two touchdowns through the air, with another 47 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. And in true Cam Newton fashion, he smiled the whole time.

It was a dominant performance by any standard, but as Carolina jumped out to a 24-7 first half lead, it became apparent that football fans everywhere were witnessing the birth of the Cam Newton Era.

Newton has made himself impossible to ignore. Not just because of his endearing smile, adoration of Panthers fans and his ability to turn an NFL field into a dance floor, but because he’s doing what so many other young, promising quarterbacks haven’t.

Andrew Luck is still looking to turn the corner in Indianapolis. Robert Griffin III played as many snaps as I did this season. Colin Kaepernick may not even have a job in 3 months.

Russell Wilson is a little bit different story. Wilson has enjoyed wild success in his NFL career. The difference here is that while Newton has an infectious smile and jokes with the media, Wilson takes on the persona of a wet saltine cracker. The the only thing Wilson is known for besides football is that he won’t sleep with his girlfriend. Newton has taken his electric on-field play and combined it with an equally electric personality.

Watching Newton play football is an experience. It’s exhilarating because the joy he emits oozes out of the television screen. Every first down comes with a huge smile, a dab and first down motion. Every touchdown, whether by him or a teammate, comes with a sprint into the end zone and a dance or a jump into the pile.

It’s hard to imagine that at one point this guy was actually criticized for being a bad teammate. Many people saw the physical potential with Newton coming out of the draft, hence his being the first overall selection. But it is impossible to ignore all the questions about his personality. Across the board, in every scouting report you read about Newton, there are red flags regarding his attitude and character. In hindsight, that looks to be perhaps the most inaccurate assessment of a player ever.

The guy wore pregame cleats with all of his teammates’ names and numbers on them. Luke Kuechly, one of the team’s leaders on defense, dressed up as Cam for Halloween. Derek Anderson, the backup quarterback, even gets in on post-touchdown celebrations with Newton on the sideline. This team is impossibly fun to watch, and it all starts with Cam.

Now, all of the showboating and dancing would come off much differently if Newton’s play didn’t back it up. But it very much does.

In 2015, while leading his team to a 15-1 regular season record, Newton set a career high in touchdown passes with 35, and a career low in interceptions with 10. His career-high in quarterback rating prior to this year was 88.8 back in 2013. This season it skyrocketed to 99.2, and there’s no reason to believe this was an anomaly. Watching Newton you can see that he's just figured it out. He is just this good.

What other “running quarterbacks” struggled with, namely RG3 and Kaepernick, was adjusting to passing from the pocket. As their legs were taken away, their passing numbers suffered. Newton has managed to maintain his strong rushing numbers while also becoming a poised pocket passer. His legs are a weapon, not a necessity. As was displayed on Sunday night, with his size, football IQ and skill set, he is the perfect quarterback.

The Cardinals’ defense came in to the NFC title game as one of the league’s very best. They ranked seventh in points allowed, fifth in yards allowed, eighth in passing yards allowed, sixth in rushing yards allowed. This was a stingy defense that not a lot of teams were able to get the best of, and Cam made it look easy. He made all the right decisions, he made good throws and he made it look like he’s figured this league out to the point that he’s going to be on top of it for a very, very long time.

There’s something sort of poetic about the fact that Newton took his place atop the NFL against the same team he made his debut against. You’ll remember Newton authoritatively announced his presence to the league with a stunning 422-yard, two touchdown performance in a loss at Arizona to open the 2011 season.

From that point on, Newton’s talent has been undeniable. The problem was whether he and his team would ever turn the corner. There was a feeling of gloom during the Panthers’ divisional round matchup in Seattle last season when Newton threw a pick-six to Kam Chancellor to seal Carolina’s fate and early playoff exit.

Given that the Seattle game came on the heels of a lackluster playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers the previous year, there was a feeling that this may be a bit of a pattern with Newton and the Panthers – always good enough to get there, but never quite good enough to get to the promised land.

But this season was different. The Panthers were different. Newton was different. The Carolina defense was thought to be set. It was just a matter of whether they would generate offense. It didn't start off well as Kelvin Benjamin, one of Newton’s top receivers, was lost for the year with an ACL injury prior to the start of the season. The Panthers' answer to Benjamin's absence was the unreliable Ted Ginn Jr.

Despite returning Greg Olsen, Newton's favorite target, it looked like the Panthers’ offense was in for a long season. But Newton wouldn’t let it happen. He single-handedly turned Ted Ginn into a bona fide threat. TED. GINN. JR. The guy who is effectively a worse Devin Hester became a guy NFL defenses had to game plan for.

Aside from Ginn, Newton made it work with Corey Brown, who doubled his touchdown total from his rookie year and nearly doubled his yardage while hauling in 31 passes. Along with that, Jerricho Cotchery, who has been in the NFL since Newton was a high school freshman, caught 39 passes and 3 touchdowns. Rookie Devin Funchess also added 31 catches and 5 touchdowns.

The point here is that these names don’t inspire a ton of confidence when trying to put together an average offense, much less the highest scoring one in the league. And yet, that’s what Newton did. He lead this cobbled together receiving corps to the Super Bowl. While other guys might make excuses, Newton went out and made plays.

As he’s dragged this shell of an offense to the pinnacle of American football, we’re left to wonder if there’s anything left that Cam can’t do. In short, there isn’t. He’s proven he can do it all on the football field, and has made himself exceptionally fun to root for in the process. Whether he’s throwing a laser for a touchdown, or handing a football to a wide-eyed, smiling child or dabbing on folks, Cam Newton is as exciting a player the NFL has ever seen.

Newton’s star has been growing since he kicked the door down on the NFL in 2011. Heading into Super Bowl 50, Cam is white hot with no signs of cooling off any time soon. With his dominance of one of the NFL’s best teams in the NFC title game, Newton made it known to the world that this is his league now.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Cam Newton Era.

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