Gone is the pout, restored is Cam Newton’s drive to take Carolina Panthers to another Super Bowl

A repeat of a one-loss season is highly improbable, but the Carolina Panthers still looks like a play-off-bound team, writes Gregg Patton.
Cam Newton is ready to lead the Carolina Panthers as they attempt to reach the Super Bowl again in 2017. Chuck Burton / AP Photo
Cam Newton is ready to lead the Carolina Panthers as they attempt to reach the Super Bowl again in 2017. Chuck Burton / AP Photo

The Carolina Panthers spent the entire 2015 season convincing a doubting public that they were the best team in the NFL.

Likewise, Cam Newton’s mission to be recognised as an elite quarterback also came true when he was named league Most Valuable Player.

Then the Super Bowl happened.

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A humbling loss to the Denver Broncos poked a hole in Carolina’s ego balloon, and turned the normally effervescent Newton into a mumbling puddle of sullenness.

Seven months later, as Carolina prepare for their opener on Thursday against Denver in a delicious rematch of the Super Bowl, the questions begin all over again.

Was that 15-1 record a fluke? And does Newton have the goods to back up his brilliant MVP season with another, as the great ones do?

In short, the Panthers should be all right. Their aggressive defence remains largely intact, anchored by beastly linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. A repeat of a one-loss season is highly improbable, but this still looks like a play-off-bound team.

As for Newton, his famous bravado is fully recharged.

This week, the dual-threat quarterback — the only one in history who has passed for 35 touchdowns and run for 10 more in a season — stated his goal in a video posted on The Players Tribune website, to be the “greatest football player to ever play this game”.

Fortunately for the Panthers, Newton won’t have to be the greatest, just something close to his norm.

Forecasters still rate teams such as the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks over the Panthers, just as they did a year ago. At least Carolina look more likely to get deep into the postseason than Denver, as the Broncos begin their title defence towing the NFL’s heaviest anchor: a totally inexperienced quarterback.

Meanwhile, the league’s taste for drama — pairing the Super Bowl opponents on opening night — may help the Panthers distance themselves from last season’s horror-show ending.

It couldn’t have been less finer for Carolina in February. The Panthers offence was overwhelmed by a furiously attacking Denver defence. The MVP surrendered two costly fumbles, including one late in the game that led to the Broncos’ clinching touchdown in their 24-10 victory. Worse, Newton hesitated going after the loose ball, taking criticism for his weak effort.

Afterwards, in front of the media, the face of the franchise sourly repeated his only answer “we were outplayed” several times before walking out.

Days later, he doubled down, claiming he was justified in his gracelessness because “show me a good loser and I will show you a loser”.

This week, finally, he admitted his postgame demeanour wasn’t admirable, and knows that it disappointed people close to him.

“You live and learn,” said Newton on his prepared video.

In the grand scheme of things, the Super Bowl flop should have little bearing on Carolina’s future. The Broncos didn’t dwell on their 43-8 championship drubbing against Seattle in 2014. The core of that team was the same that drilled Carolina.

Newton, 27, should be entering his prime years, the acquired wisdom of six years in the NFL melding nicely with his enormous physical talents.

Then there is the mental make-up. Newton is best known for his giddy, over-the-top displays after touchdowns and victories. It has endeared him to the sport’s younger fans, who love the theatrics. Too bad the pouting face in defeat comes with it.

Mostly, living and learning is a good thing, especially for a player who could benefit by modifying his highs and lows.

If we ever do see a fully mature Newton, watch out, NFL.

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Published: September 2, 2016 04:00 AM

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