An extra oomph — in years past, you could always bet on that from Carolina Panthers quartebarck Cam Newton the week his team traveled to Atlanta.
It’s his adopted home versus where he grew up, clashing and mashing in an always-significant divisional showdown. And given Newton’s connections to both, it only made sense that he’d circle that particular game every year when the schedule dropped.
But now in his eighth professional season, some of that extracurricular shine appears to have worn off.
The glitz of “playing Atlanta,” if Newton’s press conference Wednesday was any indication, isn’t as big a deal anymore.
“It’s the next game. I can’t stress that enough,” Newton said. “Yes, I’m from Atlanta. Yes, it’s a division game. But after all that’s said, you still have to find ways to win. That’s what it comes down to.”
Instead of a special homecoming motivation, Newton’s new view on Atlanta seems to mimic the rest of his personal growth this offseason. Any sense of motivation — whether against his hometown team, a divisional foe or any anyone else — is gone, replaced by a blanket desire to win at all costs.
“I think I’m beyond all the fluff or trying to find a way to get myself going — I don’t need nothing to get myself going,” Newton said. “It’s the next game, I’m excited to play this game at a high level, and that’s what I expect to do.”
‘I just want to win’
Newton, who grew up in the south Atlanta neighborhood of College Park, has had his share of fond memories playing back in his hometown, including an SEC championship won in the city while at Auburn.
But Newton’s past three trips to Atlanta have all been losses, and none of the three were particularly impressive performances. In each of the three, Newton threw for fewer than 200 yards and rushed for fewer than 60. Over that span, he has thrown for two touchdowns and has three interceptions (all of which came in last year’s season-ending debacle).
Or in other words, he hasn’t played his best football.
But with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling the shots, there is reason for hope. Turner and Newton have both said they expect Newton’s completion percentage to rise naturally this year, and with more weapons at Newton’s disposal, that should mean less onus on him alone to carry the offense.
Not that he wouldn’t be up to that challenge if called upon.
“I just want to win. I don’t care what we do,” Newton said. “I just want to find ways to win football games.”
‘Everybody wants to be able to carry the load’
In Carolina’s season-opening win against Dallas, Newton proved he’d be willing to do whatever it took, rushing the ball 13 times for 58 yards and a touchdown. But for as dynamic as Newton was with his legs against the Cowboys, the offense couldn’t put the game away.
Instead, it was up to the defense — specifically Mario Addison and Captain Munnerlyn, who forced and then recovered a fumble, respectively — to make a game-changing play. But although Newton trusts Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Luke Kuechly and the rest of the defense, that doesn’t mean he is OK with putting them in that position.
“When you see guys that you would expect to making plays, the Peps, the Super Marios, Captain America ... it’s just inspiring to feed off that,” Newton said. “We all know, going into a hostile environment in Atlanta, we all have to hold our end of the bargain. ...
“When the defense is locked in, we have to make sure offensively that we have good field position and we make the opposing team pay for it.”
Carry ... your share of the load
To Panthers coach Ron Rivera, that mindset is only natural.
“Everybody wants to be able to carry the load and your share of the load,” Rivera said. “That’s what you’re really talking about more than anything else. Cam and them want to feel that they’re carrying their load, and I think they felt (against Dallas) that they should have put more points on the board.”
So now, knowing a win would put Carolina up two games over the Falcons within the division, Newton has an opportunity to prove how both those mindsets should coalesce — not getting too ‘up’ for any one game, but still being able and willing to do whatever it takes to win.
It’s a complex balance to find, but one Rivera says also makes sense given Newton’s experience in this league.
“I’d like to believe now that we’re at the point in all of our careers that yeah, we get hyped up for this game, but we get hyped up for all of the games now,” Rivera said. “And I think that’s his approach. This is an important game, and he gets excited for all the games we play.”
Now all Newton has to do is go prove it:
No oomph, no problem.