Carolina Panthers  

 

For Newton, losing is the only thing that doesn't come easy

  • By Jeff Darlington NFL.com
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Jeremy Brevard/US Presswire
Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick, threw for 1,000 yards faster than any rookie in NFL history.


CHARLOTTE -- His intentions meant as nothing more than caring, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen approached his rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, with a few words of support in the wake of Sunday's 34-29 loss to the Bears.

Newton, in front of his locker, wanted none of it. He batted away Olsen's hand from his shoulder and muttered a few choice words that made it clear moral victories mean nothing. This wasn't a cliché during a news conference. It was hard evidence.

Carolina's quarterback has proven capable of improving in many areas, but there's one lesson he has so far been unwilling to learn: how to lose.

"Losing is hard for some people to accept," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday about Newton's reaction to Olsen. "With Cam, it sits in his craw. At some point, he'll learn: It's a loss. You learn from it and move on."

But will he learn? Should he even try? On Wednesday, I asked Newton if anyone has given him good advice about how to deal with his emotions in the wake of a loss.

"I don't think anyone can give you good advice on that," Newton said. "Unless it's coming from a world-class loser."

In just that one sentence, Newton's words matched his actions Sunday with Olsen. His refusal to accept anything but winning is sincere -- something worth embracing even if it comes with a tone of adolescence.

Consider his past two years. Newton didn't lose last year at Auburn on his way to a national championship. He only lost once in 2009 as quarterback for Blinn, a junior college that also won its version of the national title.

"I don't think anyone can give you good advice on that. Unless it's coming from a world-class loser."

-- Panthers QB Cam Newton, on losing.

People question many things about Newton, but nobody questions whether he's a winner. And in a locker room full of Carolina players who suffered through last season's 2-14 record, it's already proving to be an infectious attitude.

"He makes his point clear that he's here to win football games," backup quarterback Derek Anderson said. "He's not here to just be a guy. He wants to win, and it shows by the way he takes losses. They're tough on him.

"He's never lost games. It's not something he's used to doing. I think guys see that, and it's changing the overall morale of what we're trying to do in this locker room."

Maybe Newton should close his ears for this next sentence: Despite a 1-3 record, the Panthers do seem to be making strides in the wake of last year's misery. All three losses have been by a touchdown or less.

In the process, Newton threw for 1,000 yards faster than any rookie in NFL history. His decision-making skills have undeniably exceeded expectations. His grasp of the offense, just the same. Just as impressive so far? His place in the locker room.

"Here's the thing about Cam that you come to learn early on: He's somebody who is out to win -- he's not somebody who's out to prove people wrong," center Ryan Kalil said. "I don't know if that makes sense, but he cares only about what his teammates think and about winning. I think that's something guys admire about him.

"It's inspiring, and it carries over to the rest of the offense."

In a sports world where little is more annoying than a player who'd rather score a touchdown to disprove the "haters" than to please the fans, Kalil's sentiment shouldn't be taken lightly. It goes against everything most expect from Newton.

Many times, players show their true colors in the wake of losses. But we'll see what type of NFL leader Newton will be when the Panthers start winning. This is no longer college football, where he has to worry about making the next step. He's on the biggest stage, where elite talent at the most important position in football will always make him a commodity. At the pinnacle of success, will he turn into a player focused on becoming an icon? Will he embrace his teammates as much as he embraces his brand?

If these questions seem unfair, they are nothing more than proof of Newton's polarizing effect. And to this brief point of his NFL career, he hasn't just answered every wonder with appropriate responses. He has delivered them with shocking results.

Did you really think he'd become the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games two games into his career?

Didn't think so.

"To be perfectly frank about it, I think he's exceeded everyone's expectations," said Rivera.

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It is a surprise to many, yes. But not Newton. That's because, as far as he's concerned, he isn't exceeding anything if he isn't winning. It's a fascinating story to consider that Newton's biggest shortcoming to this point has been his inability to handle a loss without overwhelming emotion.

"The thing that hurts even more is that we're extremely close," Newton said. "Some teams know how to win. We need to get that mentality -- that we're not going to lose anymore."

Over the last year, Newton has been questioned about everything from the sincerity of his smile to the integrity of his family. Maybe the questions are fair; maybe not. But as the wonders about Newton continue to roll forward regardless of his responses, there's one question that he's managed to answer without needing to say a word: Newton is a terrible loser. And he doesn't plan to change.

"I've been trying to get better as far as not letting it weigh on my emotions that much," Newton said. "But I'll never feel complacent about a loss."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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