Just shy of greatness: Newton quickly becoming a star

Posted Oct. 05, 2011 @ 12:17 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

CHICAGO — Cam Newton couldn't find that silver lining, not after a 374-yard passing day, nor after his two touchdowns rushing in yet another fantasy football owner's wet dream. Statistics appear to fall on blind eyes for the 21-year-old Newton, who was inconsolable after the Panthers' 34-29 loss to the Bears in a game they had chances to win.

Teammate TE Greg Olsen came up to Newton, whose trademark smile was nowhere to be found, in the locker room and slung an arm around the rookie QB. "Way to play," Olsen said. "You gave us a chance to win."

"(Expletive) chances, man!" Newton shot back, tossing Olsen's arm away.
"Man, don't take it out on me," Olsen said.

Newton didn't. For a player who had a 27-1 record in his previous two college seasons, after losing three of his first four NFL games — with all three losses coming down to the final minutes — Newton appeared to have no idea how else to express himself in the moment.

The kerfuffle didn't go beyond that; it's the kind of frustration that teammates exhibit on every level of sports, from Little League to the pros. But the fact that it's coming from Newton, Charlotte's new golden boy and the best rookie in the NFL, makes it news.

Everything he does is news: from his recruitment to Mississippi State and Auburn to his 21-point comeback win at Alabama last season. From the national title he led the Tigers to, to being the first pick in the draft. From a harmless "entertainer and icon" quote to an awkward moment with Jon Gruden on TV.

And it's no surprise that Newton has cemented himself in the national spotlight for good with his third superior passing game in four NFL contests. But ask those around Newton, and they all want to talk about how well he has handled himself. Before and after joining the Panthers.

In other words, the minor spat with Olsen was out of character, and yes, that's quite the loaded word when it comes to Newton.

"This loss, man ... I never settle for a loss," Newton said, speaking after the game. "I should not have reacted like that. Greg is an excellent player, and I don't ever question a person's effort like that on the field. It's just that sometimes I feel like I can ... think too much, and that was the wrong thing to do."

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera doesn't blame Newton for his team's 1-3 start, not at all. In fact, Rivera said parts of the team need to match Newton's lofty level in order for the Panthers to improve.

"It's a learning process. We're growing. As the rest of us catch up to what's happening with Cam — because I think some of us aren't growing at the same pace - when the rest of us catch up with him, I think we can become a better football team," Rivera said.

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One appeared to be heading in the front door right as the other was heading out the back.

The lockout delayed the start of Newton's NFL career after he was the first pick of the draft by the Panthers, and it also appeared to delay the inevitable: a trade of WR Steve Smith, who had spent his 10 NFL seasons with Carolina, the only pro team he had known.

The two thought they might never work together as teammates.

Their paths crossed a few times in and around Charlotte, and it surprised Newton when Smith made the rookie an offer one of the first times they hung out. Smith's one-time dream home in a tony Charlotte suburb, the biggest mansion in the area, was for sale, and the wide receiver wanted to unload it. Naturally, he approached the soon-to-be-deep-pocketed Newton.

"He was actually at my house at the time when we offered it," Smith said. "He looked at me funny and was like, 'Nah, I'm OK.' "

 

To read the rest of this Cam Newton feature, and to get Nolan Nawrocki's take on the how the top 10 players from the 2011 NFL draft are faring a month into their rookie campaigns, buy the current issue of Pro Football Weekly, available in The PFW Store. Also in the latest of edition of PFW is an examination of the job being done by new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, along with the other four first-time NFL head coaches.