CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The importance of Monday night's game against the New England Patriots is not lost on Cam Newton.
Carolina (6-3) has won five straight behind the third-year quarterback
and is "relevant" for the first time since winning the NFC South in
"We need this more than anything," Newton said. "The Carolinas need
this more than anything."
The city of Charlotte is bristling with excitement over its NFL team's
recent success, particularly after a 10-9 win last Sunday against the
defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. So it sets up for an
electric atmosphere when Tom Brady comes to town.
The Panthers haven't won a postseason game since 2005 and
playoff-starved fans sense this is the year to turn it around.
"Everyone has been (hoping) for a magical season," Newton said. "No one
wants to be affiliated with mediocrity, or something that's just bland,
so to speak. For the past couple of years, we know it, the Carolina Panthers haven't been the hot topic or the hot thing in the league."
This game could change all of that.
Although the Panthers are gaining some respect nationally — they rank
sixth in the AP Pro32 poll, two spots behind the Patriots — they still
trail the New Orleans Saints by a game in the NFC South standings after
rebounding from a 1-3 start.
"This (high) we're on right now, no one in that locker room wants to
come down from it," Newton said. "... In that locker room after that
(San Francisco) game, you would have thought doggone Jesus came back.
Honestly. It was that type of feeling. It was a great feeling and we
want to continue having that type feeling."
Newton said now is not the time to relish a five-game winning streak,
but rather to push forward to something greater.
"We can't just stop and say, 'Hey, let's pop bottles. Let's do this and
let's do that. Let's celebrate, order some hot wings and pizza,'"
The need to win isn't quite as pressing for the Patriots (7-2), who
hold a two-game lead over the New York Jets in the AFC East.
Still, Brady and the Patriots seem to thrive in the spotlight. Brady is
13-4 in Monday night games with 41 touchdown passes and 14
"It will be fun," said Brady, now in his 13th season. "These games are
getting later and later in the year and they are getting more and more
Five things to watch in the Patriots-Panthers game:
BRADY'S BIGGEST TEST: Brady torched the Steelers
for 432 yards and four touchdowns before the bye week, but he hasn't
seen a defense quite like the Panthers this year. Carolina comes in
allowing the second-fewest points and yards in the league. "They play
great team defense and they have every stat — third down, red zone
area, sacks and turnovers. They got it all," Brady said. "We have to
play really well and our execution has to be right on."
FAST STARTS: New England coach Bill Belichick said
the Patriots must bring intensity right from the start. The Panthers
have yet to allow a touchdown in the first quarter and have led every
game at halftime except last week at San Francisco, when they trailed
9-7. "Us being able to be ready to go and being able to match that —
the intensity and the execution that they have — will be a key part of
this game," Belichick said.
WILLIAMS AND COMPANY: There's no doubt the Panthers'
10th-ranked rushing offense will look to run the ball against a run
defense that ranks 30th in the league. Carolina's offense features a
trio of solid running backs with a now healthy Jonathan Stewart teaming
with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
GRONK'S CONTRIBUTIONS: Tight end Rob Gronkowski seems to
rounding nicely into form after missing the first six games of the
season. Gronkowski had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown in
a win over Pittsburgh. He's expected to be a major factor against a
Carolina team that has struggled at times with defending tight ends.
MITCHELL'S ATTITUDE: Free safety Mike Mitchell has brought a
bold attitude — and plenty of play-making ability — to the Carolina
secondary. He is the only NFL player with at least three picks, two
sacks and two forced fumbles this season. "He brings a little bit of
swagger back there to that group," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
"He's funny because a lot of things have been said about the secondary
and he keeps saying, 'Keep bringing the challenges.' I think it's a
mentality that he's helped to permeate as far as that group."
Five Point Preview: Patriots @ Panthers
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