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NFL morning after: Cam Newton’s signature performance

during their game at MetLife Stadium on December 20, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Michael Reaves

In 2030 or so, when Cam Newton’s bust has been sculpted and NFL Films is putting together the highlight package to show at his induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, yesterday’s game will be featured prominently.

On a day when the Panthers were in a desperate fight to remain undefeated, Newton delivered his best game yet, and after a furious Giants rally tied the score 35-35, Newton marched his team down the field into field goal range for the 38-35 win. That was the signature performance not just of Newton’s MVP season, but of his career. Newton passed for 340 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions, and added 100 yards rushing. Loyal readers will remember that I’m always a fan of players who record double triples, but Newton did a lot more than just that.

Newton is the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards while throwing five touchdowns. In fact, no one else had ever even run for 50 yards while throwing five touchdowns. Until Newton’s performance yesterday, you know what the record was for the most rushing yards on a five-touchdown pass day? It was 49 yards, by Cam Newton two weeks ago against the Saints.

Yesterday was Newton’s third five-touchdown game of the season. No other quarterback has three five-touchdown games this year, and only Russell Wilson has two.

Newton now has five seasons with 3,000 pass yards and 500 rush yards. No one else in NFL history has four such seasons, and only Randall Cunningham even has three.

Simply put, Newton is playing the quarterback position in a way no other player has ever played it before. He’s not the best runner ever to play the position and he’s not the best passer ever, but he combines the two skills in a way no other quarterback has.

I should admit here that I was late to the party on Newton’s MVP candidacy. He went through a stretch this season when he wasn’t playing all that well, and the Panthers were winning thanks to their defense: From Week Six to Week Nine, Newton had seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and I said at the time that he really wasn’t playing at an MVP level. But since Week 10, Newton has 19 touchdowns and one interception. There’s no question that he’s the MVP now.

The Panthers are two wins away from 16-0, and five wins away from the first 19-0 season in NFL history. That won’t be easy to accomplish, but at this point, it’s hard to bet against Cam Newton.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:

A special day for the Texans. Yesterday was the first time the Texans have ever won at Indianapolis. That’s amazing, considering that they’ve played there every year since 2002. It’s hard to believe that a Brandon Weeden-led team appears headed to the playoffs, but despite all their quarterback problems this season, the Texans now are in control of the AFC South.

DeSean Jackson continues to amaze. With his 77-yard touchdown in Washington’s win over Buffalo, Jackson now has 20 career touchdowns of 60 or more yards. The NFL record is 23, by Jerry Rice. But Rice scored those 23 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in 303 career games. Jackson has 20 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in just 110 career games. Jackson is one of the greatest big-play threats in NFL history.

Teddy Bridgewater had the best game of his career. Prior to the Vikings’ win over the Bears yesterday, Bridgewater never had more than two total touchdowns in a game. Yesterday Bridgewater had five total touchdowns, four passing and one rushing. That’s a very good sign for the Vikings that Bridgewater is trending in the right direction heading toward the playoffs.

Prayer shouldn’t be an exception to the NFL’s rules. Panthers receiver Ted Ginn was penalized for excessive celebration yesterday for going to the ground after a touchdown. But don’t NFL players frequently kneel on the ground in prayer after touchdowns? Yes, they do. As former head of officiating Mike Pereira explained it, the NFL has a special exception to the celebration rules that allows players to go to the ground if it’s in prayer. That rule should change. It’s not the NFL’s place to say that religious celebrations are allowed but secular celebrations are not. Texans running back Arian Foster, who is currently recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, may want to kneel on the ground in a moment of quiet reflection if he returns to the field and scores a touchdown next year. Foster, however, has said that he doesn’t believe in God. So because he’s not religious, his kneeling on the ground after a touchdown would be a penalty, whereas a religious player’s kneeling on the ground is not. That’s a ridiculous rule. The NFL should let players celebrate a touchdown however they want, as long as they’re not taunting an opponent or carrying on so long that they delay the extra point. A religious exception to the rules is a bad idea.

The NFL should suspend Odell Beckham Jr. I love Beckham. He’s maybe my favorite player to watch. But his actions yesterday were totally inexcusable. He and Josh Norman were jawing back and forth, pushing and shoving, and taking cheap shots at each other for much of the game. Although Norman deserves league discipline as well, Beckham was the clear instigator and committed the worst infraction of all, a blatant, intentional helmet-to-helmet hit that could have seriously injured Norman. The NFL has only suspended one player for an on-field infraction this season (Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, for an eye poke), but now it’s time to do it again. In a Panthers-Giants game in which Newton showed he’s the class of the NFL, Beckham was classless.