DETROIT — Cam Newton spent the past few days dealing with the backlash and issuing an apology for his behavior toward a female reporter after a press conference on Wednesday.
If Newton’s main desire on Sunday was to get the headlines back to his play on the field, then he couldn’t have accomplished that objective any better.
Newton completed 26 of 33 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns to help the Carolina Panthers to a 27-24 road win over the Detroit Lions.
During his postgame press conference, Newton wore pins commemorating World War II icon Rosie the Riveter on his hat as a way to honor women and their contributions to workplaces everywhere.
Newton was the subject of much criticism after saying he found it “funny” to hear a female talk about passing routes when he was asked a question about routes by Charlotte Observer beat writer Jourdan Rodrigue.
“It was a lesson learned for me this whole week,” Newton said. “My sarcasm and trying to pay someone a compliment turned into ways I never would’ve even imagined. I’ve had an unbelievable supporting cast from fans, great teammates and great coaches that kept me up all this week. I just wanted to have a good notion and shout-out to all the strong women.”
Rodrigue did not make the trip to Detroit for the game.
Newton played like someone on a mission against the Lions, helping the Panthers score 24 straight points after the Lions took a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
Newton hit rookie running back Christian McCaffrey on a shovel pass for a 6-yard touchdown with 11:04 remaining in the second quarter to tie the score at 10. Newton then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wideout Devin Funchess with 48 seconds left in the first half to give the Panthers a 17-10 lead.
On the first possession of the second half, Carolina went ahead 24-10 with 10:43 left in the third quarter on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Newton to wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
Carolina then took 27-10 lead with 9:26 left in the third quarter on a 44-yard field goal by Graham Gano and seemed in firm control, but the Lions mounted a furious comeback.
Detroit closed within 27-17 with 5:48 left in the game on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to tight end Darren Fells.
After a Carolina 3-and-out, the Lions closed within 27-24 with 3:22 remaining on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Fells.
On the next possession, Detroit forced Carolina into a third-and-9 from the Panthers’ 24-yard line, but Newton hit Benjamin for a 17-yard passing play on the last play before the two-minute warning to give the Panthers what turned out to be the game-clinching play.
The Lions were out of timeouts, and after the two-minute warning, the Panthers took three kneel-downs to end the game.
“I couldn’t feel sorry for myself knowing that certain things took place that were out of my control,” Newton said. “At the end of the day, you live and you learn.”
Newton had a surprising target in the passing game against Detroit with tight end Ed Dickson.
Dickson entered the game having seasons of 115, 121 and 134 yards in his first three years in Carolina, but by halftime he had caught four passes for 152 yards.
Filling in while Pro-Bowl tight end Greg Olsen recovers from a broken foot, Dickson finished with five catches for 175 yards, 39 yards short of the NFL record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end held by Shannon Sharpe.
“It’s the character of the team,” Dickson said. “We are a better team to have negative stuff go around and to be able focus like this and be able to come up to Detroit and win a big game like this. We will continue to grow as a team, grow as a family and grow as a franchise.”
While the Panthers improved to 4-1 overall and 3-0 on the road this year, the Lions dropped to 3-2 and lost for the second time this year at Ford Field.
Stafford was sacked six times by the Carolina defense and the Lions were stagnant on offense until the fourth-quarter rally.
“I just think we got into a little bit of a rhythm,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “It wasn’t like they all of a sudden decided they were going to let us go down and score.
“That’s the thing about football that you don’t understand. You can come out some days and are on fire and then cool off. There are a lot of ebbs and flows in our games.”
Stafford finished 23-of-35 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns for the Lions, who were outgained 362-242 and only possessed the ball for 24:37.
“We had some mistakes today,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “I mean, that’s football, though. Football is a game of mistakes and a team who makes the least amount of mistakes generally wins. I think we had some things that we could do a lot better.”
NOTES: The 3-yard touchdown run by Lions RB Zach Zenner in the first quarter was his first of the season. Zenner rushed for four touchdowns last season. ... The touchdown reception in the first quarter by Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, the team’s No. 1 draft pick this year (No. 8 overall), was the first touchdown of his NFL career. ... Detroit DT Haloti Ngata left the game in the first half with an elbow injury and didn’t return. ... Panthers WR Devin Funchess, who was playing in front of family and friends since he is a native of Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit, left the game with 12:58 left in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. He did return on Carolina’s next possession. ... Carolina had 11 penalties for 100 yards. Detroit had one penalty for 10 yards.