In the past week, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has worn Joe Adams’ No. 15 jersey and Jimmy Clausen’s No. 7 on the practice field. Thursday, he practiced with his red No. 1 jersey on backward.
Why? Newton says he’s finding places to have fun as he tries to lead his team to a second consecutive win for the first time all season.
“It’s just something to have fun with, to see yourself in a different jersey number,” Newton said. “It’s kind of like comedy for practice just to change the vibe a little bit.”
Newton had one of his best games of the season Monday against the Eagles, passing for 306 yards and accounting for all four of the Panthers’ touchdowns. ESPN’s cameras caught Newton congratulating and encouraging teammates on the sideline during the “Monday Night Football” broadcast, scenes seldom captured this season.
Since the Week 3 waxing at home on national television to the Giants, Newton has been nationally criticized for his demeanor in the post-game press conference. Between clips of that press conference and Newton’s usual sideline look – towel draped over his head, sitting on the bench by himself – the quarterback has been unable to shake the rap.
That continued when ESPN’s Rick Reilly tweeted Tuesday morning that the team bus waited on Newton for 40 minutes after Monday’s game. A Panthers spokesman responded by calling the tweet “completely false” and saying Newton wasn’t even the last Panther out of the locker room.
“I think a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh he needs to be like this, he needs to be like that,’ but the thing that’s interesting is it’s a two-way street, his teammates come up to him as well,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said.
“It’s been good. He’s gone through a tough period. He’s a guy learning to cope with certain things right now, things that he’s never had to, and it’s like the old saying if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.”
Newton’s jersey switch and more upbeat sideline behavior coincides with a new NFL PLAY 60 commercial that features the quarterback outside Bank of America Stadium talking with a young boy about exercising and eating healthy. The conversation turns to the boy telling Newton that he’ll one day replace Newton as the franchise quarterback as well as his mom’s favorite player.
The commercial, which first aired on Thanksgiving Day, was shot in the offseason and Newton said he got a good laugh out of it the first time he saw it.
“I met him, but I didn’t think he was how he was portrayed in that commercial,” Newton said. “He was a light-hearted guy who was very articulate for his age. When he got on there warming his arm up and talking junk I was like, whoa, I didn’t see that. But the next time I see him, best believe I’m looking for him.”
Newton was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after finishing the 30-22 victory over the Eagles with a 125.0 passer rating. Veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross said Newton has been smiling more in the huddle the last few weeks, and that’s been contagious among offensive players in the huddle and on the sideline.
Second-year tackle Byron Bell said Newton will come along the sideline and tell the linemen “just stick in there,” or “just one more block and we got it.”
And sometimes a smile will even flash in the huddle.
“In the huddle, he’ll call a play and he’ll pause. Then he’ll look at everybody and start smiling and then finish the play call,” Bell said. “He’s having fun. We’re having fun doing it, executing and putting points up.
“It’s OK to smile once in a while.”
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