At 3-3-1 and with two games in the span of five days, the Carolina Panthers could find themselves pressing.
Sunday, they face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Four days later, it’s a Thursday night home game against division foe New Orleans.
And Carolina is coming off a 38-17 shellacking in Green Bay where only a handful of Panthers even played well.
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But Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the captain and unquestioned leader of the offense, says he isn’t putting any more pressure on himself.
“I’m holding myself to a standard,” Newton said Wednesday at his weekly news conference. “You know what’s acceptable, and you know what’s not acceptable. All I’m saying is that performance (against Green Bay) wasn’t acceptable. I’m not saying, ‘Give me the ball and let me run it or let me do it, coach, because I do it right or I trust myself.’ No, because I can’t do it without the other 10 guys in front of me.
“It’s going to take a team of 11 guys out there on the field at one time who understand and know what their responsibility is on each and every play. Don’t take what I’m saying as me being selfish. What I am saying is, as me being one of the leaders on this team, we have to be better.”
Carolina’s offense didn’t earn a first down against the Packers until the second quarter, and by that point the defense had already allowed 21 points. The Panthers were riddled with errors – from errant throws to missed blocks, bad tackling to poor technique – and they know they’ll be exposed by a team like Seattle if that continues Sunday.
“Pressing is one thing we can’t do, especially against a team like that,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You can’t expose yourself to the same type of situation that we did in Green Bay by making mistakes, unforced errors and missing opportunities. This is an important game for us – we get it. We know that. It’s being stressed that this is an important game and this is a good football team coming in.”
The Seahawks are 3-3 after consecutive losses to Dallas and St. Louis, but Rivera said their record, like the Panthers’, isn’t indicative of how good the team is.
While the Seahawks have dealt with injuries to their tight ends and traded explosive receiver Percy Harvin, Newton still sees a team very similar to the one that beat the Panthers in Week 1 last season 12-7 and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Seattle’s secondary, known as the Legion of Boom, is still playing physically and making big hits even with changes to the NFL rules that have been beneficial to offensive players.
“They have a very dominant secondary, a physical secondary that does not hesitate to come downhill and play with reckless abandon and do bodily harm to the other team,” Newton said. “As a fan of the game, you kind of like watching that from your TV. But when you’re out there playing the game, you have to make sure your chin strap is tightened up a little tighter and understand that executing the game plan is going to be at a premium this week more than any of the other weeks.”
After playing his best game of the season two weeks ago at Cincinnati, Newton wasn’t nearly as sharp against the Packers. He went 17-of-31 for 205 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times, and on at least two occasions, his intended receiver was indecipherable.
He must be better this week against Seattle’s secondary, which is roundly hailed as the best in the league. And unlike some other quarterbacks in the league, Newton said he won’t shy away from going at cornerback Richard Sherman.
“I know for myself, I’m not going to let that hinder whatever happens,” Newton said. “If the play is called for me to read it to Richard’s side, by all means I’m going to do it. I’m going to give every receiver chances to make plays. I’m not going to force it. I’m not going to be an idiot. I’m going to do a great job of protecting the football, but I’m going to be aggressively patient in taking what the defense gives me.”
Newton and his teammates have some silver lining in all this. The Panthers own a 11/2 game lead in the NFC South as no team has a winning record. But the pressure is on to keep that lead.
“We’re kind of shedding old skin and coming into new life each and every week, not just this week,” Newton said. “While we could look at it and say yeah we got killed this week, the optimism of it all is we’re still No. 1. We still have a chance to prove ourselves not only as players but as a team that we deserve to be on this field.”