CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton shook his head in disbelief after watching film of last year’s 45-21 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Toe, ankle, rib, wisdom teeth,” a grinning Newton said of his many 2014 injuries.
The season didn’t get much better from there for the Carolina Panthers quarterback after a car accident left him hospitalized with two broken bones in his lower back.
Newton said it’s amazing how much difference a year makes. A healthier Newton hopes that translates to a different result this Sunday night when the Panthers host the Eagles.
“It’s weird to watch film from teams we played last year and see me gimping and limping around,” Newton said. “I’m just thankful. But at the same time it’s kind of like a reset and remembrance of how far I’ve come health-wise.”
The Eagles forced five Panthers turnovers last November and sacked Newton nine times to build a 45-7 lead, embarrassing the Panthers in front of a national audience on “Monday Night Football.”
Things have changed a lot for the Panthers this year.
Carolina is 5-0 and Newton is playing some of his best football behind a much-improved offensive line. He’s on pace to be sacked a career-low 32 times and is back to being a major factor with his legs, rushing for 225 yards and three TDs. He’s improved as a passer, too, working through his progressions in the pocket and patiently distributing the ball.
“I think we faced a different Cam,” Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly said. “He looks like he is very healthy this year, so I think the game will express itself in a different manner.”
Kelly said he hasn’t even studied much tape from last year’s game because Newton wasn’t close to 100 percent.
“He is a complete quarterback and that is the thing that is scary,” Kelly said. “He can beat you with his arm and with his legs.”
Things to watch in Sunday’s night’s Eagles-Panthers game.
SPY COVERAGE: Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis used spy coverages to contain Newton, and Connor Barwin finished with 3 ½ sacks last year. Philadelphia’s linebackers had seven of the team’s nine sacks.
“You can’t just sit in a three-man rush all day and spy him,” Davis said. “You want to go four and five. You just have to be real disciplined that you’re blitzing as a group and people are in the spots that they’re supposed to be in, because even the blitzes are designed to have a nice little pocket that we keep him in.”
RUSH HOUR: RB DeMarco Murray surpassed 100 yards rushing for the first time with the Eagles and 20th time in his career in Monday night’s win vs. the Giants. He has 192 yards rushing in the past two games after gaining just 47 the first four weeks. Ryan Mathews still leads Philadelphia with 245 yards rushing and an average of 4.9 per carry. The versatile Darren Sproles has chipped in with 111 yards.
“Our offensive line is really starting to come together as a group, and the one thing about DeMarco, he’s a downhill, physical runner that runs behind his pads,” Kelly said.
OLSEN THE NO. 1 TARGET: Not surprisingly, tight end Greg Olsen has emerged as Newton’s favorite target with top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin out for the season. He leads Carolina with 24 receptions for 374 yards and three TD catches. Olsen was a key to last week’s comeback victory at Seattle and caught the winning TD pass.
“He’s primary in a lot of their route patterns, and he’s playing at a high level,” Davis said. “And (for) Cam, it is kind of his comfort zone getting it to (Olsen) and finding him. You throw it anywhere near him, he catches it.”
BRADFORD’S RETURN: Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford returns to Charlotte for the first time since suffering a season-ending torn ACL two years ago against the Panthers while a member of the St. Louis Rams. Bradford suffered the injury on Oct. 20, 2013 when he was pushed out of bounds by ex-Panthers safety Mike Mitchell.
CONTAINING SPROLES: The Panthers will be paying close attention to Sproles, who returned a punt for a score and had a TD rushing against them last season. The Panthers have already allowed one punt return for a score this season.
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