CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers fans had to be pinching themselves on Sunday afternoon.
Things had gone somewhat downhill since the end of September, when the Panthers moved to 3-0 on the season. Carolina lost Jaycee Horn, who had a dream start to his NFL career. Christian McCaffrey went down again. And then they dropped five of their next six games and it looked like a season with playoff potential might be down the drain.
Then, Cam Newton ran the ball into the end zone to give the Panthers their first of many points they would score on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
Yes, Cam Newton.
Just days after the Panthers unexpectedly signed their 2011 No. 1 overall pick and 2015 MVP in the wake of Sam Darnold's injury, he scored a touchdown and let us all know, loud and clear, that he was back.
"Just the mere presence of Cam Newton changed everything for this team on Sunday," 'Locked On Panthers' podcast host Julian Council said. "They came out immediately. You just saw and you could feel it. It was palpable, the buzz surrounding this team and Cam and the defense and special teams and the offense going out there immediately."
Newton wasn't the primary QB for Carolina on Sunday, just a few days after being signed. He had four pass attempts, one for a touchdown, and three carries, one for a touchdown. P.J. Walker was the capable backup on Sunday, completing 76% of his passes with a touchdown throw.
"He was excellent, and I say excellent in terms of what P.J. Walker is capable of," Council said on Locked On Panthers. "He's not a starting quarterback in this league. He's not even a high level backup quarterback. But what he went out there did (Sunday) is exactly what you were hoping that you could go."
After the win, the Panthers are now back to 5-5 on the year. And, with Cam Newton in the mix, it's time to put the eyes back on the prize: the playoffs.
"Everything feels like it's right there in front of them for this team," Council said on Locked On Panthers. "We spoke about it when Cam came here, about the infusion of energy that this team would get, and now everything potentially had changed for the Carolina Panthers heading into the rest of the season."
The Panthers now sit in the third NFC Wild Card slot just behind the Saints (5-4) and just ahead of three 4-5 teams in the Vikings, 49ers and Falcons.
Cam Newton is taking first-team reps this week, likely aiming to start next week against the Washington Football Team, which is coming off a big win over the Bucs. The Panthers don't go on bye until Week 13, but have a very real chance to be 7-5 going into it, with their next two games against Washington and Miami.
"This is about a team that has good players and an opportunity to do something special in the final half of the season, to see that leadership that Cam brings, that's just the Carolina Panthers needed," Council said on Locked On Panthers. "He is the soul of the organization, and the Carolina Panthers were missing that over the last year and a half."
"To not have the person who had been the face of the franchise for the past nine years, the guy who made this organization relevant nationally, people weren't going to tune in to watch the Carolina Panthers with Sam Darnold or Teddy Bridgewater."
"Everyone out there is now tuning in to watch this team with Cam Newton to see what they can do moving forward. The Panthers are 5-5 Cam Newton's back and it is a brand new season here in Carolina as this team has their eyes firmly set on a playoff spot."
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