LANDOVER, Md. -- After Robert Griffin III was buried in a pile near the goal line, Cam Newton took over and led a 98-yard drive -- bloody thumb and all.
His abilities as a leader in question and his team in desperate need of positive morale -- not to mention a win -- Newton got the better of the first NFL matchup between the last two Heisman Trophy winners Sunday as the Carolina Panthers broke a five-game losing streak, beating the penalty-prone Washington Redskins 21-13.
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Newton threw for 201 yards and ran for 37. DeAngelo Williams, dealing with a recent demotion to second-string, tiptoed down the sideline for a 30-yard score -- his longest run of the season -- and Steve Smith hauled in his first touchdown catch of 2012.
The Panthers (2-6) held Griffin and the Redskins (3-6) to long drives that were short on points in a game that Washington coach Mike Shanahan had declared a "must-win."
Newton ran for a fourth-quarter touchdown and completed 13 of 23 passes, including a 17-yarder to Greg Olsen and the 19-yard toss to Smith on the game's turnaround drive in the second quarter.
Griffin had been stopped for no gain trying to run wide on fourth down with the Redskins trailing 7-3, and the Panthers responded by marching downfield, aided by personal foul and pass interference penalties, to take an 11-point at halftime. Newton's thumb was bleeding during the drive, and he stained his white uniform as he kept wiping the thumb on his pants.
This marks the second straight season the Panthers have pulled themselves out of the doldrums with a win over the Redskins. Last year they snapped a three-game losing streak; this year they came in demoralized by four consecutive losses by a total of 12 points, a skid that had players questioning whether the team had any leadership.
Newton, as usual, took a seat on the bench with a towel over his head after every drive Sunday, but this time no one mistook it for a scene of dejection.
Griffin completed 23 of 39 passes for 215 yards, ran 11 times for 53 yards and was sacked four times as the Redskins lost their third straight. His failed fourth-and-goal run ended a drive that lasted 10 minutes, 11 seconds -- with no points to show for it.
Shanahan declared this week that the second half of the season was the time when players need to "step up or shut up." Instead, his team was shut down and undisciplined. The Redskins entered the game as the most-penalized team in the NFL -- a particular point of embarrassment to the coach -- and they added 13 more infractions for 97 yards against the Panthers. The flags included two pass interference calls on Josh Wilson, a roughing-the-passer whistle on London Fletcher and a holding call on Will Montgomery that negated a touchdown run by Griffin.
The Redskins cut the deficit to 14-6 with a field goal in the third quarter, but the worst pass defense in the league yielded another big play to put the Panthers firmly in command once again. On first down at the 9-yard line, Newtown hit Armanti Edwards for an 82-yard pass -- Edwards' second career reception. Newton capped with drive with a 1-yard run to give Carolina a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Washington's only touchdown came on Evan Royster's 2-yard touchdown run with 1:28 remaining.