As the Panthers prepare to face a Houston team on its third quarterback of the season, Cam Newton just keeps chugging - and chewing - along.
The Panthers' heralded rookie has been in every offensive play through the first 13 games - a total of 839 plays.
"Let's just say I'm lucky, blessed to have my limbs intact, healthy. Nicks and bruises are going to come, that's a part of the game," Newton said Wednesday. "I'm still able to put my hands up under the center, take the snap, make reads and play football."
Besides luck, Newton has his 6-5, 248-pound frame to help absorb hits. There have been countless times when Newton has bounced off tackle and sack attempts of defensive linemen and linebackers who are the same size he is.
Newton took a shot to the mouth last week against Atlanta and was examined between series. Like many quarterbacks, Newton does not wear a mouthpiece.
"During the game you get cotton mouth, I almost choke to death. So I need some type of flavor throughout the game because the human element just takes over and you can't get water out there on the field," Newton said. "So you need some type of taste or flavor in your mouth."
Newton, who chews gum during games, said someone told him recently that gum can help prevent concussions by cushioning the teeth and keeping them from clamping down.
What's Newton flavor of choice?
"That's like an advertisement, right there," said Newton. And then he smiled.
KICKING COMPETITION: Olindo Mare had a game ball in his locker Wednesday from the Oct. 23 game against the Redskins, when he kicked four field goals in the 33-20 victory. That seems like a long time ago.
Since then, Mare has missed a pair of crucial, fourth-quarter field goals that prompted the Panthers to sign rookie free agent Adi Kunalic, who was with the team in training camp.
"Everybody on this team is accountable for what happens on the football field," coach Ron Rivera said. "And competition seems to bring the best out of people, so we thought we'd bring a little competition in and, hopefully, the level of kicking will go up."
Rivera will decide at the end of the week who kicks against the Texans. He does not want to have two kickers active Sunday. The team's rationale for releasing John Kasay, who did not kick off his final three-plus seasons with Carolina, was to keep from using two roster spots on kickers.
"It's competition, just like camp, we were together," said Mare, 30th in the league in field goal accuracy at 76 percent. "If you're scared of competition, then you've got the wrong job."
Mare said having Kunalic around might help his focus.
"I've been through ups and downs for a few years now. There's never just a ride to the top," said Mare, 38, in his 15th season. "And these things make you stronger. They make you better."
Kunalic, 22, has been working out at Nebraska and running the social media company he co-founded since the Panthers released him Sept. 3. Kunalic, who did not have any other workouts, believes teams shied away because he was strictly a kickoff specialist at Nebraska.
But Kunalic made both of his preseason field goal attempts, and booted a 62-yarder at practice on the final day of camp.
"During camp I think I've proven that I can do that, and it's something that I'm good at or else I wouldn't be back here," Kunalic said.