For almost a decade, when the Falcons faced off against the Carolina Panthers, they were facing off against Cam Newton. Jameis Winston had his unreal effectiveness and Drew Brees will forever remain someone Falcons fans hate, but you’d be hard-pressed to talk about the NFC South and the Falcons-Panthers rivalry without Newton’s place in it.
Newton went 6-9 against the Falcons in 15 games, but as Arthur Smith noted this week, he was and remains a dangerous and difficult player to defend. Few quarterbacks in NFL history have had his arm strength and even fewer have his mix of speed, size and power as a runner, and Newton wielded those last three attributes particularly effectively against Atlanta, running for an average of seven yards per carry and piling up seven touchdowns over the years against Atlanta.
For one more Sunday, potentially the last one, Newton will square off against the Falcons. Coming into the year, nobody expected that—remember, the Panthers unceremoniously dumped Newton last year after nine seasons and an MVP at the helm of their offense—but with Sam Darnold gone the Panthers have gone back to a familiar face under center. There’s a changing of the guard underway in the NFC South, which has seen Brees hang it up, Jameis Winston heading to New Orleans, and hopefully Tom Brady hitting the bricks soon enough—and that’s meant there are an increasing number of final games for guys you spent years rooting for and against.
Newton’s not the player he was, and he’s in an offense that has struggled to do much of anything of late. But the Panthers also beat the Falcons last time with Scramblin’ Sammy Darnold picking up yards with his legs, something Newton (who is 2nd all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback and 1st all-time in rushing touchdowns) is still plenty capable of doing. Newton’s fresh off an awful performance but has been tidy against Arizona and Washington this year, and the Panthers are unlikely to ask him to win this game with his arm alone.
This team last saw Newton in September 2018—he was inactive or injured in 2019—but he finished his 15 games against Atlanta with by far the most rushing yards he’s put up against any opponent. For a team that just fired its offensive coordinator, lost Christian McCaffrey to injured reserve again and hasn’t had a 200 yard passing week since Week 4, Newton’s ability to stress defenses
Newton will, if he starts every game remaining, finish the year with 16 career games against the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints. This may be the last time the Falcons see him, so if you enjoyed watching him play or really enjoy watching the Falcons beat him, don’t take this one for granted.