CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton suffered no setbacks Saturday and is set to start against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, 12 days after suffering two small fractures in his lower back during an automobile accident.
Coach Ron Rivera said Friday he was "confident" Newton would start, and that he was awaiting final word from the medical staff Saturday before making a definitive statement on the two-time Pro Bowler. A team official said the medical staff gave no reason Saturday that Newton couldn't start.
Newton missed last Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay as he recovered from the crash that occurred on his way to Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 9. He has shown no sign of pain or restrictions in his movement since taking the practice field Wednesday.
The Panthers (5-8-1) remain in the hunt for the NFC South title and a playoff spot with New Orleans (6-8) and Atlanta (5-9). They need to win their final two games, along with a Saints loss, to win the division for the second straight year.
Now that we know Newton, who suffered two small fractures in his lower back in the scary incident, will start in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Cleveland, it’s time to address other questions.
Let’s get right to my Saturday mailbag:
@DNewtonespn who will be more successful when career is over... Newton or Manziel? #panthersmailbag - Justin Raymond (@JayRay19) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: Interesting. I'm not sold that Johnny Manziel will have a long-term career, so the easy answer for me is Cam Newton. Newton has been to two Pro Bowls and led his team to the playoffs. He has all the physical tools - size, arm strength - to be a prototype NFL quarterback. Staying healthy is the key. There aren't a lot of successful quarterbacks with Manziel's size and arm strength. Remember Doug Flutie? I just don't see Johnny Football flourishing in the league.
@DNewtonespn If the playoff hopes die this week, do you see the Panthers sitting Cam week 17 to fully heal his back? #PanthersMailbag - Taylor Stewart (@TStew16) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: It might be the smart thing to do, but I don't see it happening. Coach Ron Rivera has said he'll go with best player and do everything he can to win. And you know Newton will want to play the season-finale in his hometown of Atlanta. If he's healthy, he'll play.
@DNewtonespn Will Panthers let Cam run the offense after he signs long term deal? Would be too much of a bargain chip now? #PanthersMailbag - Davin Frankosky (@DFrankosky) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: First, he has to get a long-term deal. With the way this season has gone that's far from a certainty, although I believe eventually it will happen. As for giving Cam Newton control to run the offense, I don't foresee anything like the control Peyton Manning or Tom Brady has. He's only free to audible now about 35 percent of the time now. To give him complete control would be a huge leap.
@DNewtonespn fans want to "protect" Cam another week; are they aware the #rival Falcons game WILL be a bloody fist fight?#panthersmailbag - Justin Wright (@ItsJust_Wright) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: I agree it could be very chippy. A bloody fistfight might be extreme. And much depends on this weekend. If New Orleans beats Atlanta and the Panthers loses to Cleveland the Saints clinch the NFC South title. The finale would have far less riding on it, so some of the intensity might be lost. I'm not sure what any of this has to do with protecting Cam Newton. The Falcons haven't shown the ability to get to the quarterback all season. Why would they start now?
@DNewtonespn how does Rivera's record in Dec stack up against the rest of the coaches in the league? Guessing he's top 5. #panthersmailbag - Ryan M. Schneller (@_schneller) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: Try top two. Over the last three seasons, only Denver at 11-1 has a better record than Carolina's 10-2 record in December/January. The Colts, Patriots and Seahawks also are 10-2 during that stretch. What this tells me, particularly since the Panthers have had three losing seasons in four under Ron Rivera, is the players continue to play hard for the staff regardless.
@DNewtonespn what do you attribute the panthers recent success to? The revamped secondary or better coaching? #PanthersMailbag - Greg Edward (@OnTheRagTime) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: Definitely the revamped secondary as far as the improvement on defense. Cornerback Josh Norman has given that unit an attitude. His ability to shut down opposing star wide receivers frees defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to more freely do things to pressure the quarterback. The influx of rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere and free safety Tre Boston have added athleticism and speed that the group desperately needed.
@DNewtonespn Dave, with the recent success, Do you still see changes coming at season end? Coordinators mainly? #PanthersMailbag - justin Mason (@Masonjt24) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: The team still is 5-8-1, so I wouldn't rule out changes to the staff even if Carolina wins out and makes the playoffs. The most glaring area is special teams, where breakdowns have cost the Panthers a chance to win at least two games this season. But if the team finishes strong it would be tough to make a major change such as offensive coordinator. Mike Shula and Cam Newton have a good relationship, and you risk the offense taking a step back if there's a change.
@DNewtonespn any chance carolina signs reemers to a long term deal before or during the offseason? #panthersmailbag - Jay Eagle (@JEagleHasLanded) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: I'd go ahead and offer Mike Remmers a deal now, although you can't get too carried away with the money. But he has been solid at right tackle the past three games and really given the offensive line a boost. I'd say get him at a bargain now then if he continues to progress consider renegotiating.
@DNewtonespn Silatolu should be #2 on depth chart behind Norwell & Turner from now on. Do you think Panthers staff agrees? #PanthersMailbag - SalesMan (@95KeepPounding) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: Totally agree, and I believe the coaching staff does as well. The Panther might have stumbled onto something in Andrew Norwell, and they were high on Trai Turner in the draft. No need to change the way the line is playing now.
@DNewtonespn #panthersmailbag what do you think is the reason the O Line has been playing so much better the past couple weeks? - Garrett Waits (@GarrettWaits) December 18, 2014@DNewtonESPN: The consistent inside play of guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner with center Ryan Kalil has helped the running game. With opponents having to respect the run they can't pin their ears back and rush the passer as easily. The emergence of right tackle Mike Remmers after Nate Chandler was placed on injured reserve also has been big. That the defenses Carolina faced the past three games were weak hasn't hurt, either.
With a win, Newton can become the winningest Heisman trophy quarterback recipient against another Heisman Trophy quarterback.
Newton, who won the 2010 Heisman at Auburn, is tied with Sam Bradford (2008), Vinny Testaverde (1986) and Roger Staubach (1963) with three victories against former Heisman quarterbacks.
The two-time Pro Bowler’s only loss against a former Heisman quarterback came in Week 5 of the 2013 season. Carson Palmer, who won the 2002 Heisman, and the Arizona Cardinals beat Carolina 22-6.
Newton has completed a combined 68 of 108 pass attempts for 883 yards and three touchdowns against former Heisman winners. He has four interceptions, three coming in the loss to Palmer.
Here’s the breakdown on Newton versus Heisman quarterbacks:
- 2013 Week 7 vs. Rams, Sam Bradford: W, 30-15 -- Newton was 15 for 17 for 204 yards and 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions
- 2013 Week 5 at Cardinals, Carson Palmer: L 22-6 -- Newton was 21 for 39 for 308 yards and 0 touchdowns , 3 interceptions.
- 2012 Week 16 vs. Raiders, Carson Palmer: W 17-6 -- Newton was 18 for 29 for 170 yards and 1 touchdown, 1 interception. He also rushed 12 times for 60 yards 1 touchdown
- 2012 Week 9 at Redskins, Robert Griffin III: W 21-13 -- Newton was 13 for 23 for 201 yards and 1 touchdown , 0 interceptions. He also rushed 8 times for 37 yards and 1 touchdown.
Over the last 10 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information, there have been nine Heisman quarterback matchups. This will be the first one between Newton and Manziel, who became the starter at Cleveland last week.
Manziel and Newton first met at George Whitfield’s quarterback training academy. Newton reached out to Manziel in the summer of 2013 when the former Texas A&M star was under fire from the NCAA for reportedly accepting money from an autograph broker.
“He said to keep my head up and don’t let anything get me too down and continue to focus on those guys in the locker room,’’ Manziel said. “Cam had obviously been through something like that before and he had great words of advice for me.’’
Newton’s father was accused of seeking money for his son to attend Mississippi State out of junior college. The NCAA found no major violations in its investigation.
“I remember talking to him for probably 30-40 minutes one night and Cam helped me out in that sense a lot, and I never got a chance to thank him for it,’’ Manziel said. “He really helped keep my mindset on the right track during a tough time, especially coming from a guy who I looked up to when I was in high school watching him play.
“That was a big thing for me and a big moment in my life from a guy like Cam, who is pretty high up on the pedestal for me and a guy that is incredibly fun to watch. That was a big thing for me with Cam.”
On Sunday, Newton will attempt to keep Manziel from knocking him off his pedestal as he is expected to start for the first time since fracturing two small bones in his lower back in a two-vehicle accident.
If successful, he’ll set a new standard for Heisman quarterbacks.
Linebacker A.J. Klein also is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, but Rivera was optimistic he would play.
Meanwhile, Rivera said the team will make a decision either Saturday or Monday on whether to activate defensive end Frank Alexander to the active roster. Alexander missed the first 14 games for two separate violations -- four and 10 games -- of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Rivera said Alexander has looked good in practice and has shown things that could help the defense if he is activated for the Browns. The decision will depend on roster numbers, with Rivera noting other players on the defensive front have played well the past few weeks.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn't officially been cleared for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, but he remains on target to start after suffering two small fractures in his lower back during an automobile accident 10 days ago.
Coach Ron Rivera said Friday he felt "very comfortable and confident" that Newton will start, adding that his franchise quarterback still needs final clearance from the medical staff.
"Right now, everything is pointing in the right direction," Rivera said. "The reason I haven't said anything [definitive] is because of that one big thing, waiting for doctors to tell me they feel good about it."
Newton missed Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay as he recovered from the crash that occurred on his way to Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 9.
Rivera said Newton's ability to protect himself would be the biggest factor in deciding whether he plays. He said the quarterback has done that in practice.
Newton has shown no sign of pain or restrictions in his movement since taking the practice field Wednesday.
"He did a lot of turning and twisting today," Rivera said. "We put a lot of pressure on it. We had to do some things on purpose just so we could see. He seems to be right on track. You guys saw him. He looked good during warm-ups.
"He's had no ill effects every morning."
Newton made it clear Thursday he was all right with whatever Rivera decided.
"If I can play, we all know I want to play," Newton said. "But at the end of the day, I won't jeopardize what we have the opportunity to do just because of my selfishness to say, 'Oooh, I'm a tough man.'"
This will come down to defense. The Panthers will stop the run -- the last six teams have averaged 93.8 yards a game -- as they have so effectively the past month and a half and force Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel to beat them with his arm.
With Josh Norman playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL now -- he’s held Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans to a combined 11 catches for 110 yards -- he’ll shut down wide receiver Josh Gordon and take away one of Manziel’s best weapons.
Unless Manziel runs for more than 100 yards it’ll be tough for the Browns to score, much less win.
Manziel had a quarterback rating of 1 in his debut, tying him for the worst in a player’s first start in the last five years. The last two close to that number were Brandon Weeden (1.0) and Ryan Tannehill in 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Both rebounded nicely, Weeden with a 58.4 the following game and Tannehill an 83.3.
But the Panthers have too much to play for with the NFC South title still within their grasp if they win their final two games and New Orleans loses one to let Manziel beat them. That they’re playing their best defense of the season also speaks volumes.
And in case you missed it, Newton is on target to start 12 days after breaking two small bones in his lower back in a vehicle accident.
My prediction: Panthers 24, Browns 9
Don’t look now, but the Panthers are on the verge of having two 1,000-yard receivers for only the second time in team history.
If they surpass the 1,000-yard mark in Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, they will match the accomplishment Muhsin Muhammad and Patrick Jeffers achieved in 1999.
Muhammad had 1,253 yards receiving and Jeffers 1,082 that season in the more pass-friendly West Coast offense of George Seifert.
Is this vindication for all the criticism the Panthers took when they released all-time leading receiver Steve Smith and lost Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon to free agency?
“I think that would put a little comfort into the whole situation," Olsen said.
- Olsen ranks 16th and Benjamin 19th in receiving yards. The only other teams with two players in the top 20 are Green Bay, New England and Denver.
- Smith ranks 23rd in receiving yards with 926 and LaFell ranks 27th with 819. Ginn has only 13 catches for 184 yards, so he’s not in the top 50 in either conference. Hixon suffered a season-ending knee injury in May.
- Smith and LaFell have a combined 13 touchdown catches. Olsen and Benjamin have 15.
“I wouldn’t say vindicated," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “There were just things we had to do."
But the Panthers did what they had to do knowing they had a proven receiver in Olsen, knowing they’d have a shot at a receiver like Benjamin in one of the best and deepest draft classes ever at that position.
They also felt comfortable in their chances of landing a free agent such as Jerricho Cotchery, who has 40 catches for 509 yards.
But having Olsen first and foremost was critical.
“Right before the season we had a team meeting and everybody went around and said the things they want to bring to the table," Newton recalled. “And Greg stood up and said, in Greg’s way ... he wants to give everybody closure in the huddle that as long as they have Greg Olsen on the team, they’ll be all right.
“They don’t have to worry about the tight end responsibility and if he’s going to be able to make a play or not."
Newton wouldn’t look back at what he lost, but he didn’t hesitate to praise what he has.
“No doubt these guys have been playing great football at times with Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen," he said. “One of them couldn’t do it without the other. They surely couldn’t do it without the other guys doing their roles."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was a moment on Thursday where Cam Newton sounded philosophical.
It came when the Carolina Panthers quarterback was asked about being hesitant to say he wanted to start in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, when earlier in the season he was so bold with predictions coming off an injury.
Maybe Newton didn't want to jump the gun on coach Ron Rivera, who had yet to comment on his plans at quarterback. Maybe he didn't want to hurt the feelings of Derek Anderson, who started for him in Sunday's 19-17 victory over Tampa Bay.
Or maybe, as Newton said, he's simply grown up.
"You live and learn," Newton said. "Life is all about growth and so much about football is transferable to life. The person that you started as, you're not the same person. And if you are, shame on you.
"From Week 1 until now I have grown up and there is no need to waste any energy with stressing. I don't need anybody doubting me wanting to play."
For the record, Rivera later said Newton was on target to start. It'll be his first game after suffering two small fractures in his lower back in a two-vehicle crash near Bank of America Stadium last week.
But as Newton has said repeatedly since the wreck, when he plays again doesn't matter.
That's where he's changed.
It's not that Newton doesn't want to play. He probably can't wait to run for a first down and do the move that Anderson imitated so well against the Bucs. Or to score a touchdown and do his trademark "Superman" gesture. But Newton won't be doing any of this simply to prove, in his words, he's "a tough man" as perhaps he would have before.
"Everybody goes through stuff in life where they really open up their lives and go, ‘Man, I'm fortunate to be alive,' " backup quarterback Joe Webb said. "The car crash reminded him life, you can't take it for granted.
"That not only did something for him, it did something for everybody else in here, too. It did something for me. I just saw the man the day before, and in the car crash his life easily could have been taken away."
Rivera said there's been a series of things that have gone on this season that have helped Newton and "us all mature and grow."
"I've gone through a bit of a metamorphosis myself in seeing all the things that we've had to deal with, I've had to deal with," Rivera said, referring to everything from defensive end Greg Hardy's domestic violence case and the backlash from that to Newton's crash.
"This has been a strange year for him. He's never been bumped up, nicked up or injured the way he's gone through this year. He's a tough individual. He's a tough-minded young man. He wants to play every time, get on the field every opportunity he can. He's had to take a couple steps back."
The first came in the opener at Tampa Bay when Newton wasn't happy with Rivera's decision to sit him and give his fractured ribs another week to heal.
Until then, the first pick of the 2011 draft hadn't missed a start. Now he's missed two.
"I agree with him, there are some things that have helped him mature and grow as a person and as a football player," Rivera said.
And you could hear it in Newton's voice on Thursday.
"When I go into that locker room I can go up and down each and every row and ask every person whether they want to play, and they do want to play," Newton said. "I can see it in their eyes and that is what is getting us over this hump the last couple of weeks.
"If I can play, we all know I want to play. But that the end of the day I won't jeopardize what we have the opportunity to do just because of my selfishness to say, ‘Oooh. I'm a tough man.' "
Coach Ron Rivera said there is a chance the team’s all-time leading rusher could play on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns after missing the past two games.
Rivera said Williams still hasn’t caught passes, and there is concern with how the hand will impact his ability to block. Williams was listed as limited in Thursday’s practice.
Outside linebacker Thomas Davis was a full participant in practice after hyper-extending his left knee in Sunday’s 19-17 victory against Tampa Bay. Rivera said the bigger concern is linebacker A.J. Klein, who was limited in practice with an ankle injury.