Win against Saints key for Newton MVP talk

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is to become a serious candidate for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, Sunday will be the big test.

A victory over quarterback Drew Brees, already a serious candidate, and the New Orleans Saints would elevate Newton into the conversation with Denver's Peyton Manning, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles.

Right now, he's on the outside of that group looking in.

But does Newton care? He says no.

"That's the last thing that's on my mind right now,'' Newton said on Wednesday. "Something I really am focused on right now is how a lot of talk has been ... about how loud the Superdome could get. And no one has mentioned how loud Bank of America could get.''

Newton was referring to New Orleans' attempt to break the Guinness World Record for sound at an indoor stadium when the Saints beat the Panthers 31-13 two weeks ago at the Superdome.

It didn't happen, although it was quite deafening.

So instead of campaigning for himself as an MVP candidate, Newton is campaigning for noise in the rematch.

"The past couple of weeks has been extraordinary,'' he said, referring to Carolina's recent home games. "We're going to need that and then some come Sunday. It's an opportunity for everyone to see something that has not been here for a while. ... An opportunity is going to present itself for us to break a record for ourselves.''

But back to Newton and the MVP talk. If the Panthers (10-4) finish the regular season 12-4 -- which would mean 11 wins in their final 12 games -- he'd have to get serious MVP noise.

His passing yards (3,049) aren't close to that of Manning (4,811) or Brees (4,500). Neither are his number of touchdown passes (21) compared to Manning (47) and Brees (34).

But when you add what he's done as a runner (507 yards and six touchdowns), that he's among the top 10 in third-down passing rating and everything else he's done to take Carolina to the next level, he's at least worthy of consideration.

"A game like this, anytime you have success, especially in a marquee game, you play well you most certainly are in the conversation,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "He's done a lot of things I believe that deserves recognition, that's for sure. He's handled it very well and he's done a great job.''

In other words, stats don't tell the whole story.

But like Newton, awards aren't Rivera's focus. It's winning the final two games against New Orleans (10-4) and Atlanta (4-10) to capture the NFC South title and earn a first-round playoff bye.

"Our biggest thing is what's in front of us,'' Rivera said. "We do control our own destiny. We've got to control our business.''

For Newton, that means to continue taking what the defense gives him as he's done most of the season and to correct some of the things he did wrong in the loss to New Orleans.

"We really got embarrassed a couple of weeks ago and this is an opportunity to prove to ourselves that we think we are who we think we are,'' Newton said. "Sunday is a big game -- simple and plain. We need each and every person that is for us to be on board come Sunday. ... If we do all that, we'll be great.''

And then maybe the MVP talk will pick up.