After throwing his first touchdown of the afternoon Sunday and watching the pass's recipient, DJ Moore, hand the ball to a fan in the stands, Cam Newton took off running.
As he did, he made the universal hand gesture for "I love you" with his left hand at the home crowd at Bank of America Stadium. He was back in Panthers' black, back in the city he'd called home for nine years, back in front of the fans who were likely pining for him once Sam Darnold cooled significantly after a strong start.
As the past several days have shown, the love Newton expressed is mutual.
After playing nine snaps and getting two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) last week in Carolina's win in Arizona, Newton practiced as the Panthers' starter all week before the team's home game against the Washington Football Team, which the Panthers lost 27-21.
But it was clear last week that Newton was going to quickly slide back into his leadership role, as video emerged of him kneeling in front of the offense during the game with Arizona, his teammates intently listening to his every word, and indeed that's what has happened.
Before player introductions Sunday, Newton gathered a small circle together and gave a quick pep talk: "Lock in and execute. That's it! You don't have to do nothing special to be special. Trust ourselves, trust the person that's next to you, trust the plan."
As he was announced to the crowd, the strings of Diddy and Dirty Money's "Coming Home" playing on the loudspeakers, the requisite smoke machines on the field, Newton took his time. He walked slowly in a circle, looking up into the stands, then roared. Then he ran.
Newton did a lot of running Sunday, and not just during the game. He ran with his arms out, flying around the field, at the start of warmups./ After his first-half rushing touchdown he picked up the ball, ran to midfield, planted it on the Panthers' logo and did his "Superman" celebration, punctuating it with another roar. He ran to the end zone to celebrate with Christian McCaffrey after the running back caught Newton's gracefully weighted touchdown pass.
Turns out, it wasn't just a special day for the obvious reason.
Newton told media that Nov. 21 is his "resurrection day," the day he was arrested while he was at the University of Florida for stealing a laptop.
"It was a big scar, that ended up being my biggest star. This day is always significant of where I came from, so I was just going to enjoy the moment," he said. "Still am going to enjoy the moment. My life could be who knows where right now if the judge [hadn't] ruled the way she did [Newton agreed to a plea deal that led to all charges being dropped].
"Man, God has favor over my life, and that's the big picture. The realization of things you can control. I'm enjoying the moment but we have — I have — to be better."
The big knock on Newton has always been his accuracy, but that wasn't a concern Sunday. He completed 21 of 27 attempts (77.8 percent) for a modest 189 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. His touchdown to McCaffrey was a beautiful pass, a 27-yarder that McCaffrey caught in stride 5 yards shy of the goal line.
Newton added 10 carries for 46 yards with that 24-yard second quarter touchdown.
The favored son's return had everything. Except a Carolina win.
Newton decided to keep the ball on the decisive fourth-and-3 near midfield and got sacked. Carolina had taken over at its own 25-yard line with 1:50 and no timeouts and needing a touchdown to win.
It was a familiar situation for Newton. He has led 20 game-winning drives in his career, including three last year with the New England Patriots. The Panthers got to midfield in five plays, helped greatly when the replay assistant upheld a Robbie Anderson 11-yard sideline catch.
Interestingly, McCaffrey was used sparingly, getting just 10 carries and 17 touches. The offense normally runs through him.
Carolina is now 5-6, and plays Miami before its Week 13 bye. With a new coaching staff and offensive system since Newton was last with the team in 2019, the bye before the final quarter of the season will offer a great chance for him to dive even deeper into the playbook.
He credited the fans with offering "great juju" on Sunday and while no one got the result they were hoping for, Newton requested patience.
"Just hold on. Hold on," he said. "Trust. We're coming together."