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Cam Newton exclaims MVP claim with perfect record

By Ira Miller, The Sports Xchange
Cam Newton exclaims MVP claim with perfect record
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton led undefeated teams in junior college and in college and now he is leading one in the NFL. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers' quarterback, ranks 29th in the NFL in completion percentage, 17th in passing yardage, 15th in passer rating and 11th in yards per attempt.

Look those ratings up in the dictionary and you'd likely find them next to the word, "mediocrity."

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Put those ratings into the proper context, however, and you'll more likely find them next to the phrase, "Leading MVP candidate."

That's exactly what Newton, in his fifth NFL season, is.

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For all the talk going into the season and historically that has surrounded Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, the brothers Manning and Drew Brees, no one in the NFL is doing a better job of playing quarterback right now than Cam Newton.

He wins. Ultimately, that is the No. 1 criteria for the position.

(Not that the aforementioned quintet do not; they have nine Super Bowl rings among them. But we're talking about this year and about perception.)

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Newton is not the best pure passer among quarterbacks; at the moment the top-rated passers are Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer. Newton is not the best pure runner among quarterbacks; that's probably Russell Wilson. But this is about the "eye test," not the numbers. Newton led undefeated teams in junior college and in college and now he is leading one in the NFL.

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That's a pretty good trifecta, and not a coincidence.

We all tend to pay too much attention to statistics and glamour and not enough to what it all means. I'm reminded of a conversation nearly a half-century ago with Joe L. Brown, the late general manager of baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Brown had just acquired Jim Bunning from the Phillies, a year after Bunning was on the losing end of a major league record five 1-0 games in a season. On the surface, you would think a pitcher who just allowed one run in a game would be the guy you wanted.

The question posed to Brown was a simple one: "Would you rather have a pitcher who wins 9-8 or loses 1-0," the implication being the 1-0 loser likely pitched better than the 9-8 winner.

Without hesitation, Brown said he wanted the guy who won the game, no matter what the score.

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Well, with Newton it isn't always pretty or perfect, but he now has won 16 consecutive regular-season games, and his team is closing in on homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Which is pretty much how coach Ron Rivera has seen it happening all along.

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In 2011, Newton's rookie season, the Panthers lost three of their first four games, beating only a Jacksonville team that would finish 5-11. Newton passed for 1,386 yards in those four games.

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After the fourth, a 34-29 loss at Chicago in which Carolina racked up 543 yards on offense, Rivera couldn't help but marvel at the wonder of his rookie quarterback.

"It's a learning process," Rivera said. "We're growing. When the rest of us catch up with him, we can be a better football team."

The Panthers have caught up with their quarterback.

They have the league's No. 3 rusher, Jonathan Stewart, the league's best tight end not named Rob Gronkowski (Greg Olsen), the league's No. 3 defense, the league's best defensive player not named J.J. Watt (Luke Kuechly) and a very effective, good-guy coach in Rivera who knows a thing or two about playing on a dominant team (1985 Bears).

In other words, Carolina might not be No. 1 in anything except victories, but finally could be on the verge of making good on owner/founder Jerry Richardson's initial promise. When Carolina got its expansion franchise to start play in 1995, Richardson said his goal was to win two Super Bowls in a decade.

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The Panthers haven't won the first one yet, although they came close, losing to New England following the 2003 season. But they have the look of a team getting closer.

--Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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