So much for Cam Newton vs. Robert Griffin III. For the ticked-off players in the visitor's locker room, it was more like the Carolina Panthers vs. Sonny Jurgensen, Sam Huff and Bobby Mitchell.
Newton and the Panthers broke a five-game losing streak Sunday, topping Griffin and the penalty-prone Washington Redskins 21-13, prompting coach Mike Shanahan to essentially throw in the towel on the season. Newton threw for 201 yards, ran for 37, played part of the game with a bloodied thumb and didn't look his usual disconsolate self when he sat with the familiar white towel on his head between drives.
But what really fired up Newton and his teammates was the fact that they had been deemed the "homecoming" opponent by the Redskins, who wore 1937 throwback uniforms and welcomed back dozens of former stars. Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, whose 30-yard touchdown score was his longest run of the season, was so miffed that he raised the issue in a pregame speech and still had the "Game Day" program sitting in his locker after the game and said he might frame it.
"I look on there and it says 'homecoming.' And I'm thinking to myself: This is the National Football League. Are you serious? Homecoming," Williams said. "And it's not like you tried to hide it — you blatantly put it on the front of the Game Day. And you're talking about somebody fired up today? I was (ticked).
"It was the whole team. That was definitely motivating. You don't say you're going to have a 'homecoming' in the National Football League. You do it in college. It's one of those teams that's just terrible. You don't book, like, a good team for homecoming."
Williams rubbed it in with a series of tweets afterward, and Newton also brought up the issue without any prompting.
"I think it was their homecoming, which was kind of embarrassing for us to be in," said Newton, whose 82-yard pass to Armanti Edwards was among the highlights of a 13-for-23 performance. "And that was a challenge. I think some of the guys took that and put it as a chip on their shoulder."
Maybe the Panthers (2-6) need to find other novel sources of motivation. They entered the game with their season fading fast after four consecutive losses by a combined 12 points. There were questions about whether the team had any leaders and whether Newton had the makeup to assume such a role.
Now, at least for a week, such questions get a hiatus.
"It's a huge morale thing," said Steve Smith, whose 19-yard reception in the second quarter was his first touchdown catch of the season. "It's like the biggest morale thing you could ever have. Times are tough right now, and it's good to build on."
The Redskins (3-6), meanwhile, didn't behave very nicely in front of the franchise's former stars as they lost their third straight. Already leading the NFL in penalties entering the game, Washington committed 13 infractions for 97 yards, including a pair of pass interferences and one roughing the passer.
"That's what nauseates you," Shanahan said.
Shanahan, 14-27 in his third season with the Redskins, now foresees another year out of the playoffs.
"You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come," Shanahan said. "I'll get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at."
Griffin remains the Redskins' must-watch player. He completed 23 of 39 passes for 215 yards, ran 11 times for 53 yards and was sacked four times. But a tide-turning play came when he was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run at the 2, ending a drive that lasted 10:11 with no points and the Redskins trailing 7-3.
The Panthers responded by marching 98 yards, aided by personal foul and pass interference penalties. Newton's thumb was bleeding during the drive, and he stained his white uniform from wiping the thumb on his pants.
But he got the thumb bandaged and carried on, enough to hit Smith with the pass that put Carolina ahead by 11 at the half.
The Redskins cut the deficit to 14-6 with a field goal in the third quarter, but the worst pass defense in the league yielded another big play. Edwards' catch set up Newton's 1-yard run to give Carolina a 15-point lead early in the fourth.
Washington's only touchdown came on Evan Royster's 2-yard run with 1:28 remaining. Soon after, the last two quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy were meeting at midfield for a postgame embrace. Griffin said Newton offered his phone number and said to be in touch.
"We're both two young quarterbacks in this league, trying to get better, trying to lead our teams to victory," Griffin said. "I told him that I think his team has a lot of talent and the possibilities are endless for them. I feel the same about our team."
NOTES: An official blew an inadvertent whistle during Williams' touchdown run, but the crew met and decided it did not affect the outcome of the play. "By the time the whistle blew, he had already crossed the goal line," referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter. ... Injuries: Panthers WR Kealoha Pilares (shoulder), Redskins WR Santana Moss (concussion). Griffin had sore ribs; X-rays were negative. ... Panthers K Justin Medlock was short on a 50-yard attempt, his first miss of the year.
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