Cam Newton sat out at his locker, towel on his head and stared straight ahead. Losing three times in four starts has been a difficult and disappointing experience for the talented Carolina Panthers' rookie quarterback.
Newton fell 26 yards shy of the third 400-yard passing game of his young career and the Panthers couldn't pull out a victory for coach Ron Rivera in his return to Soldier Field where he coached and played for the Chicago Bears.
"You're not supposed to be smiling and giggling after you lose," Newton said Sunday after completing 27 of 46 passes for 374 yards in a 34-29 loss to the Bears, dropping the Panthers to 1-3.
"I've never had the mentality of losing in my whole life. For a person to tell me you can't win them all, that's a loser's mentality. I play the game and I want to win every single game I play. Obviously it hurts when I lose."
Rivera, a member of the Bears' 1985 team that won the Super Bowl and also Chicago's defensive coordinator during its last trip to the NFL title game five years ago, said what the Panthers need is for some other players to match what Newton is doing.
PR Devin Hester
"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 be a better football team," Rivera said.
Rivera took responsibility for poor special teams play Sunday. Chicago's Devin Hester returned a kickoff 73 yards to set up one TD and then set an NFL record with his 11th punt return for a TD, a 69-yard scamper after a line drive punt by Jason Baker.
"This falls on me, first and foremost, as the head coach. We had a plan and we felt good about the plan and unfortunately we didn't execute the way we needed to," Rivera said.
In their opening drive, the Panthers had three penalties - two on ex-Bear tight end Greg Olsen - and ended up settling for a field goal after driving to the 11.
But of their eight penalties, none was as costly as one called on tight end Jeremy Shockey for offensive pass interference in the third quarter. It wiped out his 22-yard TD catch from Newton that would have given the Panthers the lead and the momentum.
"I'd like to get an explanation from the league and understand why they would call something like that," said Shockey, who said the official making the call didn't give him one. "We pay their salary and I can't even get an explanation," he added. "They should be accountable, as well. They get paid a lot of money."
On a day when the Panthers defense gave up 205 yards rushing to Chicago's Matt Forte - he managed just two yards on nine carries a week earlier against Green Bay - their offense still outgained Chicago 543-317.
Steve Smith passed Muhsin Muhammad as Carolina's all-time leading receiver, finishing with 181 yards on eight catches. He needed 23 to set the record and now has 9,414 in his career."Cool to have, but statistics are part of the game," Smith said. "At the end of the day, you have to have wins. That's the most important thing. You don't want to be the guy or the group of guys who has 10 million yards but you can't win the game."
Rivera was pushed out the door after the Bears' Super Bowl loss to the Colts in 2007 and some wondered what happened to his relationship with Bears coach Lovie Smith.
They greeted each other after the game with a hug and Rivera said they shared good words."People have misconstrued the whole situation," Rivera said.
He said coming back to the city where he built his reputation was the good experience he anticipated. Except for the loss, of course.
When you are part something special, it means a lot," Rivera said. "Everybody I've been around since my career started here was fabulous. I really would have loved to win this football game, but we didn't."
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