In the past six weeks, Cam Newton has become everything Ron Rivera thought he could be.
Newton has been the leader of the offense while getting the team more wins and making fewer mistakes in that span as talk of a sophomore slump has quieted.
His coach believes the Carolina Panthers franchise quarterback is maturing at the rate he should be.
I think he is now, Rivera said. I think early on this year we were doing a lot of things and trying to find certain things. Hes really grasped a lot of the concepts we have now and I think that signifies his development.
Despite the teams 2-7 start and Newton having more interceptions (10) than passing touchdowns (8), the second-year quarterback is on pace to finish with very similar numbers to his record-breaking rookie season.
Newton is projected to finish with 3,862 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions following Sundays game at New Orleans. That would be 189 yards and one touchdown off the pace from last season, but it would be five fewer interceptions than in 2011.
The numbers could be higher if not for a lull Newton hit in the early- to mid-portion of the season. He had a passer rating of 77.2 while leading the team to only two wins, calling many to wonder if Newton had fallen victim to the dreaded sophomore slump.
Anythings possible, as much as expectations can be involved in these things, Rivera said. Other people knowing who you are, certain things you had last year that you dont have this year and having new things. There are so many things that play into certain situations.
Its unfortunate we didnt get it going sooner, but I will say that I really, as a coach and somebody who watches him every day, am excited that he really seems to have developed and matured as a football player for us.
Newton said protecting the football has been a big key for him this season. And when asked if hes playing better this year than last, Newton said hes learned more, which he believes is more important.
What separates the great teams or the good players or the great players from the others is, bad plays are going to happen, Newton said. You have to be able to tell yourself in that moment that you have to move on and know that the team is in a lull right now.
I dont have to be or do anything outside my means, just get a completion or just get everybody on the same tempo. Its really not rocket science. Its still football. It will always be 11-on-11 no matter where you put it. As long as I keep the game simple, everything will take care of itself.
Coaches have praised Newton in recent weeks for making better and quicker reads. For those reasons and more, Newton put together the franchises longest streak of passes (176) without an interception, which was also the longest active streak in the league.
Hes just done a lot better with things that maybe people on the outside cant see, veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. Calling the play right, doing the cadence right, managing the huddle, managing the personnel groups. I think hes done a really good job this year getting better at getting away from pressure and making a play, throwing his check-downs or running with the ball when its a designed pass play.
His leadership skills have gotten a lot better. Ive been really happy with him in the last six or seven games.
That span of five-plus games saw Newton account for 15 touchdowns and zero turnovers. But it came to an end Sunday late in the third quarter against Oakland when Newton threw to Steve Smith in triple coverage on third down, getting picked off deep in Carolina territory.
I was pressing, Newton said. I was forcing, and I shouldnt have forced it nd just gave the check-down running back the opportunity to get the first down. As Im learning this game, things like that have to happen and next time it comes up hopefully it wont happen again.
It was a mental error Newton made with more frequency earlier in the season. But the interception was more of an aberration after he has put together a string of games that has helped debunk the theory of the sophomore slump.