Sunday’s game isn’t about payback, at least not to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Yes, the Seattle Seahawks have beaten the Panthers four of the five times they’ve played since Newton entered the NFL, including last January’s 31-17 playoff victory.
But Sunday’s rematch with Seattle at Bank of America Stadium is about more than payback. Win the game, advance in the playoffs and payback takes care of itself.
“Nah, it’s not payback. It’s a game that we’ve all been preparing our tails off for,” Newton said Wednesday. “We know that those guys are going to be just as prepared. We have to find an edge in this game and play fast, physical, Panther football.”
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We know that those guys are going to be just as prepared. We have to find an edge in this game and play fast, physical, Panther football.
Whatever Panther football is, it needs to be what Newton did in the fourth quarter in the last meeting against the Seahawks. In the final quarter of Carolina’s 27-23 victory over Seattle in Week 6, Newton went 12-for-15 for 169 yards and a passing touchdown to Greg Olsen to win the game in the final minutes.
But Newton and his coach Ron Rivera have stressed that, for as far as the Panthers have come since the Week 6 game, so, too, have the Seahawks.
Seattle didn’t have All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner in that game. Cary Williams was the starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, and now Williams is off the team and Jeremy Lane is starting.
The personnel may be different, but Seattle’s defense still does what it does.
“We’ve got to be prepared for each and every wrinkle they possess,” Newton said. “They’re not a big pressure team. We understand that. But yet they have different ways of getting to the quarterback.”
Seattle was able to get to Newton three times for a loss of 21 yards in the first meeting this season. And in last week’s 10-9 thriller against Minnesota, the Seahawks sacked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater three times.
Then there are safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Chancellor is one of the most physical safeties in the league, and he picked off Newton late in the fourth quarter of their playoff game and took it back 90 yards for a score and the Panthers’ death knell.
Thomas intercepted Newton earlier this season when Newton threw over Olsen but in front of Jerricho Cotchery. Newton said he has to keep an eye on Thomas on Sunday because he likes to disguise his coverages in a way similar to future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
“They’re very athletic, very fast and smart,” Newton said of Seattle’s secondary. “You can’t say that about a lot of defenders in this league. Earl may be one of the best, top 2-3 free safeties in this league because of his understanding of what quarterbacks try to do to him. He plays mind games, too.”
Seattle’s defense has been stout but especially of late. The 14 passing touchdowns allowed this season were the fewest among NFL teams. Opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 78.1, which was third-lowest in the league behind Carolina and Kansas City.
And the Seahawks have allowed just one opposing offensive touchdown on 62 possessions in the past six road games.
But this isn’t any road game. Including the playoffs, Carolina has won 11 straight home games, which is the best in the league by five games. The 500 points scored this season were the most in franchise history by 79 points. And the 59 touchdowns were nine more than the second-best season in Panthers’ history.
Many have pointed to the Week 6 win against the Seahawks as the turning point in Carolina’s season. They were 4-0 but dogged by “who have you beaten?” question.
The comeback victory in Seattle – four 80-yard drives including two in the fourth quarter to win – set the Panthers on this path, some think.
Here’s how Newton sees it.
“Now we’re going into the meat of our schedule,” Newton said, “5-0, 6-0, 7-0, OK, OK. Now that’s when you guys started saying, ‘Oh my god.’
“We go 9-0, 10-0 and that’s when you guys kept saying, ‘Oh my god.’ We go 11-0, 12-0, 13-0 and that’s when you guys said, ‘Oh my godddd.’ ”
Then, after drawing out the last word, Newton’s demeanor changed. He started slumping at the podium and his voice dropped to disappointment.
“Then 14-0 hit and then that’s when we were like, ‘Oh my god,” Newton said forlornly before smiling.
“We’re sitting at 15-1 right now. We’re in a good spot. Hopefully when it’s all said and done we’re all going to be saying, ‘Oh my godddd!’” as Newton’s voice picked back up again.
“Get it?” he asked the group of reporters.