Cleat Geeks

Is Newton-Wilson The Next Great Quarterback Rivalry?

When we look back in fifteen years, Cam Newton vs. Russell Wilson might be remembered as the greatest quarterback rivalry of this generation. The new era of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.

Some parallels are undeniable. Like Manning, Cam Newton is a former number one pick in the draft, while Wilson and Brady were both passed on multiple times by every team. Brady notoriously fell to the sixth round of the 2000 draft, where he was selected by the New England Patriots with the 199th pick. Wilson didn’t fall quite that far – he was drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks; five picks after the Jaguars selected punter Bryan Anger.

Like Manning and Brady, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson continue to find each other on the schedule every year, despite playing in different divisions. With the Seahawks and Panthers already slated to face off in 2016, next year will mark the teams’ seventh meeting in just five seasons.

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In some senses, Newton and Wilson are a far cry from Peyton and Tom. Both Manning and Brady are your traditional dropback passers, and two of the best to ever play the position. Combined, they account for five Super Bowl titles, four Super Bowl MVPs, seven league MVPs, 25 Pro Bowls, and countless passing records.

In this aspect, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are very different. Both are relatively young, and have a lot to accomplish before entering the discussion of the all-time greats. Both are also leading a new generation of dual-threat quarterbacks. This past season, Cam Newton became the first player to ever pass for 30 touchdowns and run for 10 more in a single season. On the other side, Russell Wilson earned the honors of being the first player to ever reach 4,000 pass yards, 500 rush yards, and 30 passing touchdowns in the same year.

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Sunday’s play-off game will marked the sixth time in four years that Newton and Wilson have gone head-to-head. Wilson’s Seahawks have dominated the matchup so far, winning four of the first five meetings.

In their first meeting in 2012, Seattle’s defense made life miserable for the Panthers, holding them to 190 yards and no offensive touchdowns. Newton threw for a then career-worst 141 yards, and the game ended on a fourth-and-goal stop from the one-yard line. Seattle won 16-12.

The meeting in 2013 was much the same. Newton again struggled, passing for only 125 yards this time. Despite a lackluster offensive showing, Carolina was still in position to win the game. Up 7-6 late in the fourth quarter and deep in Seattle territory, Deangelo Williams was stripped by Earl Thomas after a 16-yard scamper. Seattle would go on to score a touchdown on a 43-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse, and eventually win the game 12-7.

2014 was also similar. It was a defensive battle, with the Seahawks ultimately winning 13-9 thanks to a last-minute Wilson-to-Willson touchdown connection. Cam Newton struggled mightily in this one too, throwing for just 121 yards and turning it over twice.

The 2015 season is where the tables finally turned. Down 23-14, the Panthers offense drove 80 yards on back-to-back drives to win the game 27-23. Newton was simply stunning in crunch time, completing 12 of 15 passes for 162 yards in the fourth quarter alone. A breakdown in the Seahawks secondary allowed tight end Greg Olsen to catch a wide-open 26-yard touchdown pass, which would prove to be the game-winning score.

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The only time Newton and Wilson met in the playoffs came last year. It was also the only game that wasn’t decided by five points or less.

After going 7-8-1 in the regular season, Carolina beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round, and went to Seattle as massive underdogs. A Kam Chancellor pick-six halfway through the fourth quarter put the Seahawks up 21 points and iced the game.

Sunday’s game was different. Carolina had home-field advantage after a 15-1 season. Carolina had a week to rest while Seattle was playing in Minnesota. Carolina has the confidence of beating the Seahawks in the regular season. Carolina had an MVP-caliber quarterback.

With two great quarterbacks, two great defenses, and a trip to the conference championship on the line, this game had all the ingredients needed to be one for the ages.

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