Cam Newton was standing with his elbows resting on the lectern in the Bank of America Stadium interview room as reporters filed in.
“I see you guys are late to my class,” Newton joked. “Y’all heard the bell.”
Newton’s weekly press conference is his time to be the metaphorical teacher. During the week he’s a student in the meeting room and on the practice field, with Sunday serving as his weekly exam.
And the past four weeks Newton has graded out with high marks.
The second-year quarterback is in his best four-game stretch of his career, having accounted for 11 touchdowns and zero turnovers in that span. He’s averaging more than 339 yards of total offense per game, and it’s the longest Newton has gone without a turnover.
Newton commonly refers to his success as the team just executing better, but cutting down on his mistakes has also helped Carolina to two wins in four games.
“Protecting the football is always a key each and every game going into it,” Newton said. “(Offensive coordinator Rob) Chudzinski talks about it each and every week. We feel if we do that, that’s one obstacle that’s taken care of. We feel as if the longer this offense is on the field, the better off this team will be, and that’s been true.”
Carolina’s offense had an 11-minute-plus time of possession advantage against Atlanta. And in the first half, Newton helped keep Carolina’s offense on the field for nearly 24 minutes to Atlanta’s six.
Time has also been on Newton’s side in the pocket recently. Since the Denver game in Week 10 when Carolina’s offensive line gave up a season-high seven sacks, Newton has been sacked seven times in the past four weeks.
The Panthers hope they have solidified their front line with Garry Williams taking over permanently at right guard, which has seen four different players this season.
“We’ve settled on who those starting five are going to be going forward these next three games so I think that’s been a big contributing factor, as well as he’s confident, he’s comfortable back there,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “He has time to make his reads, he’s making good decisions on his reads, his playmakers are making plays.
“He’s playing with the swagger he had.”
Newton said the reads are becoming clearer to him. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson said he’s noticed Newton recognizing what defenses are doing against him quicker and not overthinking as much.
Not only that, but Newton has been playing more loosely.
“I think for him he kind of realized that when he’s down on himself and he’s pulling himself away he doesn’t play as well,” Anderson said. “He plays better when he’s more outgoing and open. When that play is over with, move on. When that game is over with, move on, let’s get better and keep pushing.”
Talk of a sophomore slump plagued Newton earlier in the season. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year had 10 interceptions and just eight passing touchdowns 10 weeks into the season. Now he’s projected to finish with a higher quarterback rating, fewer interceptions and more rushing yards than last year with nearly identical stats in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completion percentage.
“People think it’s easy to come play in this league, and what Cam has done from where he started to where he is now, it’s incredible,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said. “To think you’re not going to have some ups and downs when you’re learning to play in this league is absolutely crazy.
“If you’re smart and you have good patience and you keep coaching the same things and doing the same things over, which is what Carolina has done, then you see stretches like this and you get a feeling of what it can be in time when a guy gets to a point where he understands the preparation.”
Newton declined to talk about his ultimate goal this season for a Panthers team that cannot make the playoffs. Instead, he said his main focus is to string together consecutive wins for the first time all season.
“We’re not going to put our farsighted glasses on,” Newton said. “We’re going to put our nearsighted glasses on and just worry about trying to make the most of practice tomorrow, honing in on our mistakes and make sure we’re as sharp as we can be come Sunday.”