There was nothing more for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to play for in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 38-10 blowout of Tampa Bay.
He had the statistics at 16-of-20 for 233 yards. He had Steve Young’s career rushing touchdown record tied.
Newton became the first player in NFL history with 30 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season.
And he had his team’s No. 1 overall seed wrapped up as securely as his 2015 NFL MVP award.
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But his coach didn’t know that the Seattle Seahawks were beating Arizona by 30 at the end of three quarters, and Newton wasn’t going to take himself off the field.
“Doesn’t matter,” Newton said when asked if he was surprised he was still in the game.
Of course it doesn’t to Newton. More than anything he likes to win, and he planned on securing the victory no matter what was happening with the Cardinals.
Perhaps more than he likes winning, Newton hates losing. He sat at his locker in Atlanta a week earlier for nearly 25 minutes without speaking to anyone, two empty bottles Pedialyte at his feet after fighting dehydration in Carolina’s one and only loss of the season.
“We shouldn’t have lost,” Newton said shaking his head when asked what he’ll remember most from the greatest regular season in Panthers’ history. “We shouldn’t have lost.”
For what he loves and he hates, I can say with 100 percent certainty Newton is particularly apathetic about what you think of him.
He doesn’t care if you don’t like his touchdown celebration, a Superman pose he did twice Sunday after getting his 42nd and 43rd career rushing touchdowns.
Whether you believe him or not, Newton said he didn’t revel in the MVP chants throughout Bank of America Stadium on Sunday night. He talks glowingly, and regularly, about the home crowd and fan support, but he wouldn’t bite on tens of thousands of people calling him the league’s most valuable player.
“For me to dwell on that would be selfish of me. I don’t think guys get a lot of credit,” said Newton before mentioning the rushing game of rookie Cameron Artis-Payne and how tight end Greg Olsen sometimes drew three defenders and “made my life extremely easy getting guys like (Devin Funchess) and Philly (Brown) and Jerricho (Cotchery) freed up.”
“There are a lot of guys that have selfless approaches that make me glorified to a degree. I don’t necessarily want to dwell in that because it’s for the birds.”
But what’s seemed to rile up observers and opponents alike lately has been the group photo at the end of games. The Panthers have been doing it for years but it caught more national attention last month.
Carolina obviously didn’t do it last week in Atlanta, but Newton saw the opportunity toward the end of the game to try it again this week.
He started at the end of the Panthers’ sideline opposite all the photographers. He corralled the specialists first – kicker Graham Gano, punter Brad Nortman and long snapper J.J. Jansen – and they got in the picture for the first time ever.
“We felt very honored to be included, very thankful to be a part of the team,” Jansen said. “It was a pleasant surprise. It was fun.”
Newton moved down the sideline and got more teammates. Finally it was every member of the offense and specialists in the group.
But the last time the Panthers did the photo, Olsen was awkwardly left out. He was late to the party and stood behind the group. He missed the pointing to the left and right, and he missed the dab.
He took a beating on Twitter for days, and he made sure that wouldn’t happen again.
“I told (Newton) I’m going front and center this time,” Olsen said. “I’m having my night without Twitter all over me. I was front and center, big smile on my face. Obviously we were all enjoying it.
“It’s not usually my thing, but I’m all about the team.”
The team picture may have been the closest Jansen, a long snapper who never shares the field with the quarterback, has been to Newton’s leadership.
“I don’t know if I dabbed correctly, but Cam orchestrates the whole thing,” Jansen said. “He makes sure everyone is on the same page. The skills that he’s got as a quarterback go over nicely into photo taking.”