By: Steve Reed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is thriving this season with the game on the line.
Carolina's fifth-year signal-caller has a passer rating of 115 — second-best in the NFL — in the fourth quarter, having completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 673 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception.
On Sunday, Newton helped the Panthers remain unbeaten by leading his them back from two different deficits, completed 9 of 13 passes for 149 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter a 41-38 win against the New Orleans Saints.
Newton tied a career-high with five TD passes and helped the Panthers extend their regular season win streak to 16 games.
"He's been clutch," tight end Greg Olsen said. "When the game has been on the line, he's been at his best. As a team collectively we have been at our best. We seem to play well when we need to the most — and that's a pretty good quality to have for your quarterback and your team."
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said he's been watching Newton since his Heisman Trophy season at Auburn and sensed right away he was a player who thrived in pressure situations.
"Those moments, he just lives for them," said Cotchery, who caught a game-winning 15-yard touchdown pass from Newton on Sunday with 1:05 remaining in the game. "A lot of people shy away from those moments. But some people dream about being in those situations. When he is in them, he embraces them fully."
The Panthers rank third in the league in scoring this season.
Newton has been a big part of it, throwing for a career-high 25 touchdown passes — with four games left to play. They host the struggling Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Center Ryan Kalil said nothing has changed drastically about Newton's approach to the game since he came into the league, instead attributing his improvement to gaining experience on the field at the NFL level.
Kalil said people forget how many passing records Newton broke when he first came into the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.
"Each and every year now you see him get better and better and it's been fun to watch," Kalil said.
Kalil said Newton's approach in tight fourth quarters with the game on the line "depends on the situation."
He said sometimes Newton is all business and at others he's joking around, trying to lighten guys up if he senses some tension.
"He does a good job of getting the temperature of the group," Kalil said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who has been coaching Newton for the past five seasons, said the quarterback has been handling pressure situations much better this season than perhaps earlier in his career.
He attributes that to a "relaxed calmness" that Newton has shown time and time again this season, but most noticeably in an early season overtime win against Indianapolis and on Sunday on the road against the Saints.
"I think it is confidence in himself and confidence in his teammates — an approach where it doesn't matter what's going to happen, we're going to get it done," Shula said.
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