INDIANAPOLIS – Cam Newton capped a record-breaking rookie season by taking home two trophies from a red-carpet awards show Saturday on the eve of Super Bowl XLVI.
The Carolina Panthers’ quarterback won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award, as well as AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after a season in which he threw for more yards than any rookie in NFL history.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick last year, set several league and team records, beginning with a 422-yard passing performance at Arizona that was the most prolific debut for a rookie quarterback.
Newton finished the season with 4,051 yards, breaking the mark held by the Colts’ Peyton Manning (3,739 yards) since 1998.
The announcements came at an inaugural NFL Honors show at the Murat Theatre, televised on tape delay Saturday night on NBC. Newton is the first Panther to win the offensive rookie award.
“Throughout that whole highlight reel, I felt like I was about to pop this button because my heart was pumping so hard,” Newton said. “It’s unbelievable to go through a season and have so much success with so much support.”
Newton received 47 of the 50 first-place votes in the AP balloting by sports writers. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who led the Bengals to the playoffs, received the other three first-place tallies.
Newton said he “absolutely” kept tabs on Dalton as the season progressed.
“I was a student of the game throughout this whole year, from what Andy Dalton did and all the other rookies,” Newton said. “And it was just amazing, not just the success that I had, but what everybody else had.”
The Pepsi award was determined by fan voting. Panthers receiver Steve Smith was a finalist for Comeback Player of the Year, won by Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Newton’s touchdown run against Tampa Bay and the fumble-rooskie touchdown by Panthers fullback Richie Brockel were among 10 nominees for Play of the Year, which went to Green Bay’s Randall Cobb for his 108-yard kickoff return versus New Orleans in the first game of the season.
Besides the passing records, Newton also rushed for 14 touchdowns, the most by a quarterback in league history.
He became the first player in league history, rookie or otherwise, to rush for at least 500 yards (he had 706) and throw for 4,000 in a season.
Newton thanked teammates, coaches, fans and owner Jerry Richardson for giving him a chance when many draft analysts were saying Newton was too big a risk to take No. 1 because of character concerns and his success in Auburn’s simplistic offense.
Newton was asked if he had a message for his critics.
“I really don’t have nothing for them because it’s not at the end of the road where things are going to stop,” he said. “But to some degree, they gave me the edge to keep me going and have that in the back of mind as I was working out and I was preparing.”
After he was drafted, Newton went to IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., to train with former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke during the lockout. After a new labor deal was reached, Newton completed just 42.4 percent of his passes in four preseason games.
But he had back-to-back 400-yard passing games the first two weeks of the regular season, including a rookie-record 432-yard performance in a loss to the defending Super Bowl-champion Packers.
Newton, who completed 60 percent of his regular-season throws, said the difference was the extra work he did with the receivers to improve their timing.
Newton excelled under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who installed a scheme that combined his vertical passing attack with an option package similar to what Newton ran at Auburn. Selfishly, Newton was glad Chudzinski did not get any of the three head-coaching jobs he interviewed for.
It will be the first time Newton has played consecutive seasons as a starter in the same scheme since high school.
Newton, who threw 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2011, said his goals are to keep improving and get the Panthers into the playoffs. He did not set a timetable for the latter.
“I do know I have excellent teammates (whose) mindset is to make the Carolina Panthers an elite playoff contender each and every year, starting with the coaching staff (and) management up in the offices.”