After an 0-2 start, the Carolina Panthers have won four straight and five of six to improve to 5-3 and pull within one game of the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South lead.
With 2013 NFL regular season officially halfway over, Panthers 101 is doling out midseason grades for each position group.
There's only one place to start – and that's with quarterback Cam Newton.
Evaluation: It's no secret – the Panthers will go as far as Cam Newton takes them. The third-year signal-caller had a few hiccups in the first month of the season, including a three-interception dud against Arizona coming off the bye week. Since then, Newton – aided by a favorable schedule – has played the best football of his career – a stretch in which the Panthers haven't lost.
More importantly, the maturation process is really taking hold. Newton has made tremendous strides as a teammate, leader and game manager. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have done a great job getting him to take what the defense gives him.
The numbers haven't been as gaudy, but who cares?
Despite slipping up a little bit against Atlanta, Newton has turned in efficient, turnover-free performances in three of the last four games. More importantly, the Panthers are winning, which does wonders for the confidence of any young quarterback.
Here are Newton's numbers at a glance through the first half of the season:
- Completion Percentage: 64.4 percent (154 of 239 for 1,801 yards)
- Passing Touchdowns: 13
- Turnovers: 8 (7 interceptions, 1 lost fumble)
- Passer Rating: 93.1
- Rush Yards: 55 carries for 251 yards (4.6 average)
- Rushing Touchdowns: 4
Newton's progress has been extremely encouraging, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. He's still a little inconsistent in terms of accuracy, and has a habit of sometimes holding onto the ball too long. Additionally, while his decision-making has improved tremendously, Newton still needs to improve against the blitz in the second half of the season.
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