Panthers' Cam Newton prepared to set ego aside when facing Redskins CB Josh Norman

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says he will have to fight off the temptation to challenge Washington cornerback Josh Norman on Monday night just for the sake of ego.

And vice versa.

"Knowing me and Josh, it's a highly likelihood it will be there,'' Newton said Wednesday of that temptation. "But I have to control that beast more than anything.''

Newton and Norman squared off in practice as teammates the past four seasons before the Panthers (4-8) rescinded the franchise tag on him in April.

Their competitive nature came to a head during the 2015 training camp when the two got into a scuffle. It happened after Norman intercepted a Newton pass and began returning it down the left sideline.

Newton went after Norman in pursuit, harder than one would expect for the quarterback in a training camp practice. Norman responded by stiff-arming the franchise quarterback in the helmet.

Both players wound up in a pile with teammates and ended with linebacker Thomas Davis shouting about how stupid the whole thing was.

Both players later talked about how the incident brought them closer, but Newton said it wasn't worth revisiting this week.

"It's irrelevant right now,'' he said. "I gain nothing, you gain nothing besides a meaty story leading up to [Monday]. A week after this, nobody will remember it. So next question.''

But Newton did talk about how he has to be smart against Norman, who often was paired against the opposition's best receiver at Carolina to take away half the field.

His play last season earned him his first selection to the Pro Bowl.

"Josh, his competitive nature, that's his edge,'' Newton said. "We all have something that another person may not bring to the table as much as we do, and Josh needs that. I realize that with me being around him for the four years he was here.

"He needs somebody to challenge him so he can get in the groove.''

Newton said he and Norman last year developed a competitive nature that went beyond practice. It involved seeing who had the best hands in activities such as video games, cards and basketball.

"We just always competed,'' he said. "That's what you have to have as an athlete of that magnitude.''

But Newton, who has completed only 42.8 percent of his passes in the past four games and struggled to a season-low 37 percent in Sunday's win against San Diego, said he can't let that competitive nature flow into the game.

"You've just got to take what the defense gives you, go where the reads take you,'' said Newton, who was given a rare day off on Wednesday to rest his arm and body. "With that given, having that smart mentality, smart not conservative, that will get me a long way.''

Carolina coach Ron Rivera agreed Newton has to resist the temptation to challenge Norman if the play isn't there. He also understands that temptation will be there.

"You want to play against the best and you want to have a good challenge, and that's what Josh is,'' he said. "Josh is a tremendous challenge.

"That was the one thing about him last year for us: He loved that challenge. He loved us putting him on the best receiver on the team. He loved going up against the Odell Beckhams, guys like Dez [Bryant]. Julio Jones brought out the best in him. Likewise, he brought out the best in Julio.''

Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said Monday will be a "big game'' for Norman because it's a chance to prove himself against his former team.

The Panthers rescinded the franchise tag because general manager Dave Gettleman couldn't see a long-term deal happening and felt he could do more with the $13.95 million Norman was set to get.

"Whenever you go against your old team you get a little fire under you,'' Ginn said. "He's going to come out fiery. He's going to play as hard as he can.

"We've just got to match his intensity, no matter who he's checking.''