The captains C patch on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newtons jersey was two seasons in the making.
No. 1, a digit no other Panther has ever worn, can be seen on more jerseys in the stands at Bank of America Stadium on Sundays than any other.
But in the Panthers meeting room, all of that status is stripped away, Newton says.
With quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and offensive coordinator Mike Shula, with wide receivers and running backs, the motto in the meeting room is rankless and tagless.
So you take your name tag, your coaching tag, your player captain tag off, and if somethings not right, you got to say it, Newton said. If you dont feel comfortable, be a man and say it. Thats kind of been our approach correcting ourselves, correcting each other and holding ourselves to a standard of being accountable.
The approach has been effective. The Panthers have won three consecutive games before Week 9 for the first time since 2006, and Newton has strung together his career-best three-game stretch.
The numbers are relatively modest for Newton, who torched SEC and NCAA records in his Heisman-winning year at Auburn, then rewrote the NFL record books for rookies in 2011. He tallied more passing yards (7,920) in his first two years than any other quarterback in NFL history in that span.
Its not like its all of a sudden, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, but now we see the consistency, we see the efficiency, and I think thats all been a part of his growth. Everyones starting to believe so hopefully we continue that.
Since the Panthers left Glendale, Ariz., with a 1-3 record after a humiliating 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Newton, in his third NFL season, said he has learned less is more.
Newton is 58-for-75 for 667 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past three games, along with 30 rushes for 106 yards and two scores.
And for the first time in his career, Newton has a winning record. The Panthers are 4-3.
I think hes figured out that he doesnt have to do it all on his own, veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said. He isnt playing like on fire, hes just being great at being the quarterback and doing what we asked him to do. Hes throwing the ball well, hes smart with the ball, which is awesome. When he does run, hes running the ball well. I feel like hes playing with less pressure than he had in the past.
Thursday night, following Carolinas 31-13 win against Tampa Bay, Newton said its not all him, and that it doesnt have to be.
If you want to solely say Im playing great, it also means that a lot of other guys are playing great behind the scenes, Newton said. This is not a one-man show. I understand that, and I will not have that type of attitude. We have an offensive line thats playing lights out, we are running the ball when we want to and when we have to, and (we have) receivers who are making plays.
Success by the numbers
Could it be that simple, that everything has coalesced for these Panthers?
After giving up seven sacks at Arizona, Carolinas offensive line has allowed six total sacks in the past three games. On third downs, Newton is averaging a league-high 10.32 yards per pass attempt with a 122.7 passer rating.
Consider the Panthers defense is one of the best in the NFL, allowing touchdowns on 37.5 percent of opponents trips to the red zone (third in the league), creating 15 turnovers and giving up 13.7 points per game, second-best in the league.
On special teams, kicker Graham Gano is third in the NFL in touchbacks with 30 in 36 kickoffs on the season, almost guaranteeing the opponent will start from the 20.
The coaching staff gets credit, too. Riveras about-face on fourth-down philosophy, previously ultra-conservative, has extended early scoring drives in two of the past three games and has Carolina tied for second in the NFL in fourth-down efficiency.
Were 4-3, so its not desperate, receiver Steve Smith said of Rivera. You take it as a guy who believes in the offense, believes in the team. You have to look at it personally and say, What were some of the things we were doing offensively that he didnt believe we could do that?
Instead of getting upset or defensive, you look in the mirror and go, hey, these are the reasons why. Those are the things weve worked on, and obviously theres a big difference.
A different situation
This isnt the first time Newton has played mistake-free football. Last year he went 176 completions without an interception, but that came in the second-third of the season, with the Panthers already out of playoff contention.
Now the games matter. And the normally buttoned-up Newton admitted after Thursday nights win that not all games are created equal.
We just have to continue to keep meshing as a team and keep getting momentum in these upcoming weeks because we are about to hit the meat of our schedule and we are going to need every single ounce of energy that we will have, Newton said.
In November, the Panthers face Atlanta, New England, San Francisco and Miami. Those four are a combined 15-11, a stark contrast to the combined 5-22 record of the four teams Carolina has beaten so far this year.
Newton said hell take a quasi-bye this weekend and come back Monday to prepare for Atlanta, the team he grew up cheering for in suburban Atlanta.
And trying to extend the best three-game stretch of his career into four.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9