Today, Tebow joins him in the spotlight with a headline-grabbing return to Florida, where he played in college, as the Denver Broncos’ new starting quarterback against the Miami Dolphins. In his second NFL season, Tebow will try to show that he has the same capability to succeed as a passer that Newton has demonstrated.
“He’s been a winner at every level,” Steve Mariucci, the former coach of the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, said of Tebow. “It might not be the way that Tom Brady does it or the way that John Elway did it. But it’s about winning games. He deserves an opportunity to show what he can do.”
There no longer is such criticism about Newton as he readies for just his seventh NFL start. He wasted no time showing what he could do in the NFL when he threw for 422 yards, the most ever by a rookie quarterback in his debut, in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Newton followed that with a 432-yard outing against the Green Bay Packers, the reigning Super Bowl champions. That quickly, no one was wondering any longer if he could throw accurately enough to be a reliable NFL quarterback, and the Panthers’ decisions to use the top overall choice in the April draft on him and name him the starter seemed fully justified.
“Cam has played much better football than I thought he would after one year of college, after no offseason,” said former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. “We’ve seen a great athlete who’s learning to play the quarterback position.”
But there have been growing pains. Newton has thrown nine interceptions, tied with recently benched Redskins starter Rex Grossman for most in the NFL. He is the league’s 25th-rated passer despite ranking fourth in passing yards behind only New England’s Brady, Drew Brees of New Orleans and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Newton is coming off a three-interception game in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last weekend.
“With any rookie quarterback, you’re going to see ups and downs,” said Mariucci, an analyst for the league-owned NFL Network. “But his ups have been more impressive than anyone could have hoped for.”
Newton, who won the Heisman and a national title last season at Auburn, also is showing leadership skills. He said during a midweek news conference that he wants to make Carolina one of those places where opponents dread playing. He called the Panthers’ 1-5 record “unacceptable” to him and the organization.
“It’s not just about me,” Newton said. “It’s not about what I do. . . . At the end of the day, you play this game to win. It would be selfish of me to go about each game and say, ‘I’m trying to throw for 400 yards.’ . . . Are you playing this game for individual efforts or are you playing this game to make it to the playoffs, make it to the Super Bowl?”