Panther Tracks

Is Cam Newton the best quarterback in the NFL? Hall of Famers and MVPs debate

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton prays at a goal post at Bank of America Stadium before the start of the NFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. The Panthers hosted the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton prays at a goal post at Bank of America Stadium before the start of the NFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. The Panthers hosted the Arizona Cardinals. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

On its pregame show, NFL Network’s popular hosts addressed a popular question about Cam Newton: is he the best quarterback in the league right now?

Kurt Warner, two-time NFL MVP: “MVP this year; best quarterback in the league this year with all the things he can do. Love him, with all the things he can do in this offense, but there’s a number of quarterbacks I would take before Cam....I love what Cam does, but how can you put Cam in front of Tom Brady when Tom Brady is the guy that will carry your team in any situation? So not quite there yet, but I believe he should and will be the MVP, and he was the best player in the league this year.”

Michael Irvin, Hall of Fame receiver: “We give love to Tom Brady over the years for playing such great football with guys that we did not expect to play (that well) on the back end. We kept saying, ‘We throw him receivers and he keeps throwing up numbers and throwing up victories.’ Now, we’ve thrown Cam Newton some receivers and he’s throwing up victories wth guys that we didn’t expect him to be able to throw up victories (with). Now we’re not saying Tom Brady doesn’t have receivers. We say he doesn’t have an offensive line. The same thing comes up with Cam and he doesn’t get the credit he should....This is the new age quarterback. He is the best in the league right now and he’s led his team to the best record in the NFL.”

Marshall Faulk, Hall of Fame running back: “He’s changed the perception of what we say about the athletic quarterback. We always speak about him in a running manner. If you watch him lately, a lot of his damage is done in the pocket throwing down the field and making quick decisions. It’s going to take time when you see the best athlete on the field playing quarterback and when you see him playing quarterback, it might not look like the way things used to look....Some of the things Tom Brady does, beating you from the shoulders up, Cam might not ever get there, but when you can throw the ball way he throws it, off his back foot, and put the ball in places where he puts the football...He can beat a zone with a strong arm, and I didn’t think he would do that to Seattle the way he did that.”

▪ Deion Sanders, Reggie Bush and former Panther Steve Smith also addressed the same question. They agreed that Brady was still the king of NFL QBs. For now.

“You go over the span of (Newton’s) career,” Smith said. “It’s how we vote on the Pro Bowl. The first year, we give it to you, but then it’s, ‘Can you do it again?’ If (Cam) is doing this next year and the year after that, then you start talking about legacy.”

Panthers-Cardinals Game Breakdown

On its morning pregame show, the NFL Network offered a position by position breakdown for Cardinals-Panthers:

▪ Kurt Warner gave Carolina advantage at quarterback because of how well Carolina has played at home.

▪ Michael Irvin leaned towards Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona receivers.

▪ Marshall Faulk said the Panthers win the running game because of Cam’s running ability, but he felt Newton would have help. “I feel like Jonathan Stewart is going to have a big day,” Faulk said.

▪ Steve Mariucci, the former 49ers and Lions coach, said Ron Rivera going 21-2 in his last 23 games gives the coaching advantage to Carolina.

▪ Deion Sanders said the Cardinals have more play makers on defenses and gave a nod, ever so slight, to Arizona.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 3-2 Carolina

Wingo: stress-free Panthers

ESPN analyst Trey Wingo marveled on his “NFL Insiders” show Sunday that he’d not seen a team as carefree as Carolina.

“You’ve got to give the Panthers all the credit in the world,” he said. “They been so loose this entire season. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team less stressed about things, one game away from the Super Bowl.”

How’s the field?

NFL Network reporter Tiffany Blackmon offered a report on the state of the Bank of America field, something that the Seahawks complained loudly about following their 31-24 NFC Divisional playoff loss last week.

She said after the tarp was lifted that the field had some moisture in it, following a couple days of snow and ice locally, but with temperatures in the mid ‘40s, the turf would have a little time to “air out.”

“Keep in mind,” she said, “there are no heating coils underneath this field unlike some others in colder weather climates....But I can tell you from being out here Friday night and standing out there today, it’s pretty amazing what this field looks like considering what it’s been through.”

They Said It

▪ “I’ve seen the growth of Cam, and I would say this season, we’ve seen this player go from good to great, and he’s done at the end of halves and the end of games when they have to throw the football. You seen him audible in a calming way. The cadence is calming and...he’s throwing darts. Darts! I think that’s made him special this year. In these close games, he’s operated with poise and calm and he’s had an outstanding year.” -- Sean Payton, Saints head coach on ESPN’s “NFL Countdown.”

▪ “Who’s the best corner? Right now, it’s Patrick Peterson. Forty five yards the No. 1 receiver is averaging (against Peterson), 60 yards the No. 1 receiver is averaging when Josh Norman is covering. I went to public school, 45 is lower than 60.” -- Steve Smith answering Deion Sanders question about who is the better corner between Arizona’s Patrick Peterson or Carolina’s Josh Norman.

▪ ”No doubt that Bruce Arians is the coolest coach in all of football. There’s not a single coach in the history of this league with more swagger than Arians...The biggest joke ever is that Arians didn’t get his first coaching gig until he was 60. Hire him 10 years ago and this boss would be accessorizing that awesome lid with a ring or two.” -- CBS guest and national radio voice Jim Rome

▪ ”The better he plays, the more polarizing Cam Newton seems to get. So it’s no shock that after he and his crew smashed Seattle, some Seahawk fan rushed right to her keyboard and labeled him as Mr. Classless Cam Newton. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Richard Sherman blast Michael Crabtree after a win? Doug Baldwin is a straight up baller but didn’t he do something obscene with the ball in the Super Bowl? Glass houses dwell. Cam Newton is not what’s wrong with the NFL. He’s what’s right with it and he’ll be dancing and signaling first downs all the way to the Super Bowl. Panthers have home field and no way he’s letting them lose today. I’ll see you in Cali Cam.’’ -- Rome.

Reporters give inside tidbits

ESPN reporter Ed Werder said Thomas Davis told him that the Panthers love to attack pocket passers and reported that the Cardinals are concerned about Carolina’s front four.

Said Werder: “One Cardinals offensive starter told me that (Carolina defensive tackles) Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are monsters, and they’re scary good and we have to have answer for them.”

▪ ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported the Seahawks team manager reached out the Cardinals team manager during the week and advised them to switch to 7-stud cleats because some Seahawks had trouble with slipping on the Bank of America turf prior. Anderson also reported that a Cardinals source told her the NFL called Arizona to warn them about field conditions this week.

“As Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson told me,” Anderson reported, “’We will be ready no matter what, whether we’re playing in a parking lot, on a roof or in soggy field conditions, we will be prepared at the line of scrimmage.”

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