Cam Newton didn’t have any time to enjoy his first playoff win before the Carolina Panthers quarterback started reading and hearing about the next thing he’s never done:
Three times in the past three seasons Newton and the Panthers have faced quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, and three times Wilson and Co. have left Charlotte with a win.
It’s not just that Newton has lost to the Seahawks. The way he has played has drawn attention as the Panthers (8-8-1) prepare to face Seattle (12-4) in Saturday’s NFC divisional-round game at CenturyLink Field.
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“I can’t make it personal. You can’t do that. It’s not about me. It’s bigger than me,” Newton said Wednesday. “It’s about going into a hostile environment and not only proving to people, but proving to ourselves, that we belong here.”
Plenty of other Panthers’ players shared the blame in the losses to Seattle. But the taut, low-scoring games served to magnify Newton’s struggles against the Seahawks.
A quick recap:
• In a 16-12 loss in 2012, Newton threw for 141 yards, a career low at the time, on 12-of-29 passing. On fourth-and-goal from the Seattle 1 late in the game, he bounced a throw at the feet of an open Ben Hartsock in the end zone.
• Newton set another career low with 125 passing yards in a 12-7 defeat in the 2013 season opener, which was sealed when running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the Seattle 8 with 5:25 remaining.
• Newton passed for 171 yards in the 13-9 loss in Week 8 this season. But he rushed for only 24 yards on 12 carries, and lost two turnovers, including a first-half fumble in the red zone.
Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Newton’s past performance against Seattle and its “Legion of Boom” secondary is not an indicator of future success.
“Cam has a lot of confidence in his own ability,” Shula said. “He’s really kind of like the rest of us. We feel like we’ve been right there on the edge, at the doorstep. But you have to play better than what we’ve played. We’ve been close, but it hasn’t been good enough.”
During his weekly press conference Wednesday, Newton wasn’t interested in rehashing the previous Seattle games.
“Honestly, I don’t mean to be blunt, but the last three years doesn’t matter,” Newton said. “They’re a different team. We’re a different team (from) six games ago.”
Both teams were missing several starters in Week 8. The Seahawks played without center Max Unger, Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Byron Maxwell, and Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert were out.
“Those are different teams on both sides of the ball,” Newton said. “They may run the same scheme. They may have some different clues that we can go off of. But the game Saturday is not going to be based on what has happened in the past.”
Newton can learn from the past, according to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who thought his quarterback was pressing to make plays in the first meeting this season.
After Brenton Bersin gave the Panthers great starting field position by returning the second-half kickoff 49 yards, a scrambling Newton attempted a backhanded pass to tight end Greg Olsen that was intercepted.
Newton conceded Wednesday he needed to avoid the “senseless turnovers,” and Rivera said Newton needs to be patient against Seattle’s aggressive defensive backs.
“You have to make sure that you’re not trying to force things. You’ve got to take what’s out there,” Rivera said. “I think that’s some of the things that he’s learning. If he plays any way he has in some of these games the last five-(game) stretch, there’s some really good possibilities for us.”
One thing Newton won’t change is his willingness to challenge Richard Sherman, the Seahawks’ shut-down cornerback.
“Don’t get me wrong, Richard Sherman is a top-tier cornerback. But if the read takes me there, I have to take it,” Newton said. “I’m not going to shy away from (him).”
Despite missing two games because of injury and playing several others at less than 100 percent, Newton finished the regular season with 3,127 passing yards and 539 rushing yards. He’s the only player in NFL history to start his career with four consecutive seasons with at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards.
Newton had an up-and-down in last week’s 27-16 wild-card win against Arizona. He had several key runs to pick up first downs, but he lost a fumble and threw an interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown.
But he came out with a victory, something that Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has failed to do in four playoff games.
Now it’s on to the next round for Newton, who says the Panthers are not satisfied with having advanced.
“We’re not playing to lose. There’s guys, including myself, that this is a business trip,” he said. “We’re not shying away from competition. This is a great Seahawks team that we’re playing. We understand that. We know that. We will be ready to go.”