CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers appear to have found their stride.
While the St. Louis Rams’ season is suddenly in a state of flux following a knee injury to Sam Bradford.
Newton turned in his second straight quality start, completing 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown and the Panthers defeated Rams 30-15 in a heated game Sunday that included several fights and personal foul penalties.
In the past two games, Newton is 35 of 43 for 464 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Panthers (3-3) have won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“I feel like I am progressing,” said Newton, who is 16-22 as an NFL starter.
Newton said he believes he’s making better decisions, although he chided himself for taking sacks on two plays that essentially ended drives.
“I’ve got to throw the ball away,” Newton said. “Just give my guys a chance and when we do that, it’s exciting to watch. Anytime I have got an opportunity to give a dink or dunk to these guys, they make the big plays.”
Steve Smith caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown and Mike Tolbert scored his third touchdown rushing of the season.
The Rams, meanwhile, are concerned about their franchise quarterback.
Bradford was scheduled to have an MRI on his left knee after the team landed in St. Louis. He was injured in the fourth quarter when he landed on it after being shoved out of bounds by Panthers safety Mike Mitchell.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Bradford “was in significant pain on the sideline” but the team wouldn’t speculate on how long he’ll be out.
“I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals until I find out what’s going on with him,” Fisher said.
Before losing their quarterback, the Rams (3-4) lost their cool.
They were flagged for five personal foul penalties and defensive end Chris Long was ejected from the game for throwing a punch after one fracas involving more than a dozen players.
Long admitted after the game he lost control of his emotions and said he apologized to his teammates.
“Having to watch the rest of the game in the locker room was probably one of the low points of my career,” Long said. “I can’t let that happen again. ... I need to be stronger than that. I play this game with a lot of emotion. I won’t change that. I can’t let people provoke me.”
Mitchell, a free agent pickup, was instrumental in the Carolina win.
He not only had eight tackles and two forced fumbles, but also goaded offensive lineman Harvey Dahl and wide receiver Brian Quick into unnecessary roughness penalties.
“We wanted to do a better job of being more mature, being the more composed team,” Mitchell said. “We had the game in hand and we could tell by the way they were playing that they wanted to get somebody cheap, try to get us a penalty, something like that. We weren’t going to give it to them. We just needed to stay disciplined.”
The Panthers were flagged for two personal fouls.
It was a rough day all around for Bradford.
Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted the former No. 1 draft pick on the game’s first play and returned it 45 yards for a score. Bradford also had a long TD pass to Tavon Austin called back on a penalty, and Quick dropped a pass in the end zone.
The Panthers’ third-ranked defense forced three turnovers and had four sacks.
The Rams threatened to tie the game early, but failed to convert on fourth-and-goal from the 1 when Bradford was pressured into an incompletion.
The Rams scored on the next play when Eugene Sims tackled Mike Tolbert in the end zone for a safety — the first points surrendered by the Panthers in the opening quarter all season.
After the teams traded field goals, the Panthers took a 17-5 lead just before halftime on a 1-yard plunge by Tolbert.
Down 20-5, Bradford connected with Quick on a 73-yard completion, setting up a short TD pass to Zac Stacy to trim Carolina’s lead to eight.
But Carolina came right back as Newton drove Carolina 72 yards, hitting Steve Smith for his 800th career reception, a 19-yard touchdown for a 27-12 lead.
The Panthers have a chance to get above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2008 season when they travel to Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton’s steady play is a big reason for the team’s optimism moving forward.
“He has done a great job,” Rivera said. “You talk about things that he does and his reads and learning to go through his progressions the right way. ... When you see him doing those types of things to give us a chance to win, you know that he has matured.”