Newton is finally trusting his teammates

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton should be a defensive back the way he's gotten so good at deflecting attention when it's thrown at him.

It happened again on Wednesday when he was asked about finally getting to play in big games such as the one coming Sunday night at New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.

"Your question is great, but your question is trying to make it a 'me' thing,'' said Newton, whose suffered through 6-10 and 7-9 records his first two NFL seasons. "We all wanted this.''

Newton is a big reason the Panthers (9-3) have won a franchise-record eight straight games and are in the position of playing a big game at New Orleans (9-3).

But he's not the only reason.

More importantly, he knows he's not.

Newton has developed a trust in his receivers, running backs, coaches -- in his entire offense -- that wasn't always there during his first two seasons. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell calls it trust, and says that's why the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft finally is living up to expectations.

"It started at the end of last year, when he started to trust everybody more,'' LaFell said. "When you've got the type of talent Cam has got, you can really take over a game at any second. You can't blame him for having that type of talent. God gave him that.

"At the end of last year, he started trusting us more as receivers, putting the ball up and letting us go make plays, and getting the ball in our hands quicker and let us run after the catch more.''

The Panthers won their final four games last season. After a 1-3 start this year, they have put together a league-best winning streak that has Newton coming up in MVP conversations and the Panthers in Super Bowl conversations.

Newton will tell you he's always had trust in his teammates. He'll also go out of his way to compliment those around him more, from receivers to offensive linemen who make some of his spectacular scrambles possible.

"With me realizing that, it just makes everything go smoother,'' he said, the key word being "realizing." "This is not a facade. This is not a fake. This is not something somebody is prepping me to say to deflect all the credit off yourself, because it's true. If I wasn't being honest with you guys, I wouldn't have the integrity go back in that locker room and look at those guys in the eyes.''

He can. And they look back at him with trust in their eyes.

Coach Ron Rivera understands. He studied Newton as much as anybody coming off the Heisman Trophy winner's 14-0 season at Auburn in 2010, in which the quarterback at times single-handedly carried the team. He watched Newton do amazing things during his first two seasons in the NFL.

"When he burst onto the scene, he was making plays because of his abilities more so than knowing what he was really truly doing,'' Rivera said. "Now he knows it, he feels it, he has confidence in himself and his teammates.''

It's trust. When asked about Newton feeling less pressure to make all the plays, Rivera quickly interjected, "I know where you're going.''

And he agreed.

"It's interesting,'' Rivera said. "When we were scouting Cam going way back when ... several of the SEC coaches that I talked to all said the same thing ... [that] without him, that was a 7-7 Auburn team. I just listened to what they had to say and why they said that, and it was pretty impressive.

"So as we went through this the last season and a half with him, you kind of got that sense that he was trying to do a lot and put a lot on his shoulders and tried to handle it all by himself. Brandon is right, he's learned to trust his teammates, the guys around him, and not feel pressed to do everything.''

Newton also has a better understanding of the offense and what coordinator Mike Shula is trying to accomplish. He and Shula drew up the play that turned into a 16-yard touchdown pass to LaFell in the first half of Sunday's 27-6 victory against Tampa Bay the night before. And the week before against Miami, Newton audibled out of a called quarterback keeper for a play that turned into a touchdown.

You don't hear Newton taking credit for it, though. He deflects the attention to everyone else.

"Maybe I just have the blinders on, like one of those horses downtown that goes around [pulling carriages with couples],'' he said. "I'm just trying to stay focused. Even though we're having a great season, it can be better. I don't want to take the credit for things I'm not doing, because it's just not No. 1 out there on the field.''