CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton had just finished an onfield TV interview and shaken hands with Redskins players when he decided to make a quick stop on the way to the locker room. He jogged over to the end zone and gave a line of high-fives to the front row of cheering fans on his way to the tunnel.
"It feels great," the rookie said afterward, flashing the wide smile that had been absent for the better part of a month.
The No. 1 overall draft pick had reason to celebrate after helping the Carolina Panthers beat the Redskins 33-20 on Sunday. There was no heading into the final minutes trying to erase another narrow deficit only to end up with a close loss. Instead, the Panthers finally played with a lead almost the entire way and pulled away after halftime to match their win total for all of last year.
And that meant Newton wouldn't sit and stew at his locker as he had after games during Carolina's three-game losing streak.
"Like I told (receiver Steve Smith), man, it felt like at times during the game we all were clicking," Newton said. "Not only on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense did what they had to do."
Newton ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the second half for the Panthers (2-5), finishing with 256 yards passing and running for 59 more. His touchdown on a 16-yard keeper in the third quarter was his seventh rushing score of the season, tying a record for most TDs rushing by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Jonathan Stewart also ran for a third-quarter touchdown as Carolina turned a 9-6 halftime lead into a 17-point margin by midway through the fourth quarter.
Washington's John Beck threw for 279 yards and scored on a short keeper in his first start in four years, showing enough mobility to keep plays alive and buy time for his receivers. But he didn't get the Redskins (3-3) back to the end zone again until they were down 30-13.
"It's hard to say, because winning is the only thing that matters," Beck said when asked about his performance as a starter again. "That's the only thing I wanted to do out there. I wasn't going out there trying to be too perfect; my ultimate goal was to walk away having won the game. This is obviously not the feeling we wanted to have."
Coach Mike Shanahan said Moss broke a bone in his left hand in the first half and is definitely out next week. As for Hightower -- who got the start and had run for 88 yards on 17 carries -- hurt his left knee when it buckled during a 4-yard carry in the third quarter. He was helped off the field and eventually carted to the locker room from the sideline.
Shanahan said the severity of Hightower's injury is unclear.
It wasn't an understatement to say Carolina needed this win. Four of its losses had come by a touchdown or less. Probably the worst moment came here two weeks ago, when the Panthers gave up the go-ahead touchdown to Drew Brees and the Saints with 50 seconds left in a loss that left Newton growing more frustrated by the day. After that game, Newton sat motionless for several minutes facing his locker, his head in his hands as he stared down at the floor.
This time, Newton met reporters wearing a smile and even joked about hearing the "Oooohs!" from fans after taking a crushing hit on a blindside sack from Brian Orakpo in the first half.
He wasn't alone in that joyous feeling.
"It's big for us as a team," linebacker James Anderson said. "We've been so close for so many games and everybody's saying, 'You're right there, you're right there, you're right there.' Now we've had an opportunity to go over the hump now. We've just got to build on it and keep getting better."
Newton coolly led Carolina to three straight touchdown drives after halftime. He completed 18 of 23 passes in an efficient performance, with Smith hauling in seven for 143 yards. In the fourth, he had an easy touchdown toss to Brandon LaFell that blew the game open.
More importantly, Newton didn't commit a turnover after throwing three interceptions in last week's loss at Atlanta.
"He did a great job with his feet," Shanahan said, "he hung in the pocket, and made some throws you don't see many pros make, especially young players."
As for Beck, the 30-year-old former BYU standout who earned the starting job after Rex Grossman threw four interceptions in last week's ugly home loss to Philadelphia didn't get the Redskins back to the end zone after his third-quarter keeper until they were down 30-13.
Beck completed 22 of 37 passes and threw a late touchdown to Fred Davis after the game was out of reach. It was his first start since December 2007 with the Miami Dolphins -- and he remains winless in all five career starts.
Newton's keeper tied the record set by Vince Young with Tennessee in 2006. He celebrated by giving the ball to a kid in the front row of the stands. ... Redskins linebacker London Fletcher left in the second half with a hamstring injury. ... Panthers kicker Olindo Mare had four field goals, including a 45-yarder just before halftime for the 9-6 lead. ... Carolina's 30-13 lead in the fourth was its biggest in any game since the end of the 2009 season.