David Newton | ESPN.com
“We have to worry about ourselves first,” Newton said on Thursday. “I feel [that] if we are playing at our best, there’s really no team that can stop us.”
There’s reason for such confidence. The Panthers (12-4), seeded second in the NFC, have won 11 of their last 12 games to enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFL. They will be playing at home where they have won seven straight since losing the season opener 12-7 to Seattle, the NFC’s top seed.
Having the league’s second-ranked defense doesn’t hurt, either.
“We know what we’re capable of and we know what our fans are capable of,” Newton said. “If we do the things we know we can do, we’ll be all right.”
Carolina will face third-seeded Philadelphia if the Eagles beat No. 6 New Orleans on Saturday night. If the Saints win, the Panthers will play Sunday’s winner between No. 5 San Francisco at No. 4 Green Bay. They beat the 49ers 10-9 in San Francisco on Nov. 10 in the middle of an eight-game winning streak.
Newton said there’s no pressure to seize the moment.
“No, sir,” he said. “We’re going to do the things that has got us to this point, and if we do that we’ll be all right.”
This will be Newton’s first playoff game since being the first pick of the 2011 draft. He has a history of rising to the occasion in big games, leading his junior college to a national championship in 2009 and Auburn to the BCS National Championship in 2010 with an undefeated record.
But Newton said preparing for the NFL playoffs doesn’t feel like anything he did in college.
“It’s nothing like college at all,” he said. “I [have] yet to experience a playoff game. I know the atmosphere is going to be hectic, to say the least. It’s a lot more to play for if you ask me.”
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Newton is a big-time player when it comes to the big stage. He pointed to several moments during Newton’s NFL career where he stepped up, from the first time he practiced in front of fans at fan appreciation day, to throwing for a record 422 yards in his first regular season game. He could have added Newton’s last-minute drives to beat New England, Miami and New Orleans this season.
“There is something about big games that do tend to bring out the best in him,” Rivera said.
Newton said the bye week has been “therapeutic” for him and a lot of players, from having time to heal nagging injuries to improving deficiencies in the offense. Newton played most of the last two games with an ankle injury, but when asked if that was what he meant by therapeutic, he said, “It’s a lot of reasons.”
“Ankle, toe, arms, head, mouth … everything,” he continued. “For me, I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity. A lot of teams don’t get it. [There’s] a lot of teams that’s playing to try to get momentum right now. We have to be aware of that.”
As for whether making the playoffs has legitimized him a top quarterback, Newton deflected the attention from himself as he has all season.
“That’s the last thing I’m thinking about, being a quarterback to perform in the playoffs,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do things that has got me to this point. I need to be better. I understand that. Not missing throws that I’m capable of making.
“The offense has to be better. When it comes down to making me legitimate or not, that’s the wrong conversation to have, being that this is a team sport. It’s going to be a team win come the playoffs.”
- Covered Panthers, NFL for 11 years
- More than 25 years experience covering NFL, college football and NASCAR
- Joined ESPN in 2006