CHARLOTTE – Raised outside Atlanta, ripened in SEC country and established in Carolina, Cam Newton is a stranger to the kind of cold weather he will confront Sunday evening in the NFC Championship Game. The forecast calls for a high of 44 on Sunday, but the 6:40 p.m. kickoff will come about an hour after sunset. The temperature at the opening kick will probably fall somewhere south of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, near the projected low of 22.
In his five-year NFL career, Newton has played only two games in temperatures lower than 40 degrees. Last November, the Panthers lost to the Vikings, 31-13, in 12-degree weather in Minnesota. Newton completed 18 of 35 passes for 194 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing for 49 yards. Late in the 2012 season, Newton played a 36-degree night game in Philadelphia, which Carolina won, 30-22, as Newton passed for 306 yards, ran for 52 and accounted for four touchdowns.
The Panthers do have an outdoor facility and have practiced outdoors in cold weather all week. Friday morning, they moved practice up about an hour and played outside in sleet, on snow-covered turf. Newton, from what the Panthers saw, showed nothing aside from his usual proficiency and joy all week.
“If you’d have seen him outside, you’d have loved it,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “He was having a good time. We’ve practiced in the rain. We’ve practiced in the cold. We’ve practiced in the snow before. He was just him. It’s every football player’s dream to play in the snow. This is just an opportunity for him to live out one of those dreams.”
Panthers players raved about the quality of both Newton and the entire Friday practice. Rivera said Newton attempted 22 or 23 passes, and receivers caught every single one. Some players made snow angels. They played with such tempo that practice ended 19 minutes early.
“It was the best practice all year,” wide receiver Corey Brown said. “It was the best week we’ve had all year. [Newton] looked great today. I don’t think we had a ball on the ground today. I don’t think he’s too worried.”
“Cam don’t let anything get in the way,” defensive lineman Mario Addison said. “He was out there throwing the ball like he’s always throwing the ball. It didn’t slow him down at all.”
Some quarterbacks opt to wear gloves in the cold for a better grip on the ball, but Newton will keep his hands bare Sunday.
“He’s got big hands,” Rivera said. “He doesn’t need to. I don’t think it’ll be an issue for him.”
All week, Rivera has embraced practicing in the elements, especially while the Cardinals have been preparing in the desert back in Arizona. Carson Palmer has plenty of cold-weather experience from his days as the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback in the AFC North, but he hasn’t been playing in it all week.
“We don’t make a big deal of having to practice outside,” Rivera said. “If you don’t have it, you don’t worry about it. We got a little saying around here, too: Don’t let ‘it’ get in the way, no matter what ‘it’ is.”