For most of his career, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has struggled against the Seattle Seahawks defense more than any other he has faced in his five-year career. Newton's passer rating against Seattle (69.0) is the lowest against any of the 17 NFL opponents he has faced more than once, and his completion percentage (54.6 percent) is the second lowest
Yet for two possessions late in Carolina's Week 6 victory against the Seahawks, Newton was on fire, and he hasn't really cooled down since, putting together what most expect to be an MVP season as he helped lead the Panthers to a 15-1 season.
When the Seahawks face Carolina in the divisional round of the playoffs this weekend, they'll be preparing not for the quarterback who has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions in five games against Seattle, postseason included, but rather for the player who led two 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drives at CenturyLink Field, completing 10 of 12 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, and who finished this season throwing for 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 10 more scores.
One of the reasons for Newton's big season is simply the natural progression a quarterback goes through during a career, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera also points to what happened late last season when the Panthers made some changes and finished the season strong to make the playoffs.
"The big thing more than anything else is that it all started last year with what happened when we got on our run," Rivera said on a conference call with Seattle-area media. "A big part of it was (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula's desire and ability to change our approach to offense in terms of doing a little bit more no-huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage and putting a little bit more on (Newton) from the line of scrimmage. I think that's really helped him in terms of seeing the game better. Get to the line of scrimmage, make your calls, make your checks, make your adjustments and play football. It's also his fifth season. I think that's one thing a lot of people forget. This is his fifth season with us and I think it's time for him to have taken the next step, and he obviously has."
Newton's ability to drive the Panthers 80 yards twice in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks didn't just help the Panthers win that game, it only added to the confidence of a quarterback and a team, Rivera said.
"If you have confidence in what you're doing, you're going to have success, and he's playing with confidence right now," Rivera said. "That's a huge plus for us…. Any time you can have success against a very, very good opponent, it gives you confidence. We were able to beat Green Bay this year, we beat Indianapolis, we beat the Texans. We beat good football teams this year. We had some good things happen our way, and being able to beat Seattle in Seattle was huge for us. It most certainly does give credence to confidence."
But while Rivera sees significance in that comeback win for what Carolina was able to do during the rest of the season, Newton downplayed it in his conference call with the media, saying that was just one game in a long season, and one that won't mean anything if he and his teammates don't perform well on Sunday.
"It didn't show pretty much anything, because a lot of people didn't even believe in us then," Newton said. "They said it was a fluke, or what have you. We just have been starting fresh each and every week, understanding that if we play our game and trust coaching, and do the things that we know we're capable of doing, we can win any football game that we play in. This game is not going to be any different. Seattle doesn't owe us anything, we don't owe Seattle anything. It's going to be a hard-nosed game. They're a physical team, that we know. Playing those guys a lot in the last couple years, we know that it's going to be a game to watch."
Take a walk down memory lane with photos from all 10 Divisional playoff game the Seahawks have ever played, including last year's matchup against the Carolina Panthers who the Seahawks face once again in a Divisional playoff game on Sunday.