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Newton, Rivera grow together

Posted Oct 28, 2013

CHARLOTTE – As the father of a third-grader who has been doing some serious damage to the family's grocery bill of late, I can attest to the measurable effect of growth spurts.

But I also can tell you that even outside of those periods when one cheeseburger just isn't enough, my son is still growing.

It's the same situation with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and – for the sake of this analogy – his football father, Ron Rivera.

"It's been a growth period," Rivera said of his suddenly surging signal-caller. "He's learned so much – like I have – and he's grown a lot."

The growth of Newton and Rivera – tied at the hip by the fact that they were both Panthers rookies in 2011 – is as quantifiable as ever.

Over Newton's last 16 games (the equivalent of one regular season), he has thrown 26 touchdown passes while tossing just nine interceptions. In the 16 games before that, dating back to the middle of his rookie year, Newton threw 18 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions.

But the more notable number - one that Rivera shares in and one that has observers pronouncing that Newton has truly arrived - is the win-loss record. The Panthers are 10-6 over their last 16 games, a playoff-caliber kind of record.

As much credit as Newton is getting, he gives it right back to his head coach.

"He's the backbone of this team," Newton said of Rivera. "We have full faith in everything that he stands for and everything that he does. It means a lot for a player for him to go for it on fourth-and-one in a hostile environment…him keeping our offense out there meant a lot for us.

"Not only that, but it's the things that he does that people don't really see - the team meetings that he calls, the constant reminders to players. There are a lot of egos on a particular team, and he handles them extremely well."

Rivera, who hadn't been a head coach before getting his chance with the Panthers, has readily acknowledged his own growing pains while shielding his quarterback whenever possible from the pain of growing as an NFL quarterback with all eyes fixated from Day One.

Rivera has learned how to succeed as an NFL head coach by figuring out the winning formula for this particular team, a formula that features but doesn't exclusively focus on Newton.

"Very few guys come into this league ready-made," Rivera said. "Everyone will go through their bumps and bruises and have their ups and downs, but it's not necessarily just about that person. It's about the people that are around that person as well. Football is a team game."

The Panthers, above .500 for the first time during the tenure of Newton and Rivera, are playing well as a team. And while Newton is enjoying a growth spurt, he wouldn't be in position to take advantage if he hadn't been growing all along.

While helping the Panthers improve to 4-3 last Thursday with a 31-13 victory at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 50 touchdowns and rush for 25 touchdowns in a three-year span. He did it with nine games to spare.

"It isn't like he hasn't had success," Rivera said. "He had the best first two years for any starting quarterback in the history of football. At one point, he had the best rookie year, then he had the best first two years.

"So it's not like all of a sudden, all of a sudden, but now we are seeing the consistency and seeing the efficiency. That's all a part of his growth, and now it's to the point where everybody is really starting to believe."

All that being said, growing isn't a process that suddenly stops one day. Just like my son, Newton as an NFL quarterback and Rivera as an NFL head coach must keep learning.

It's just that they've now reached a point where they can learn from success just as easily as they can learn from failure.

"You're going to make mistakes, and I'll make a couple more, but I'm going to learn from them. I'm going to grow from them and get better," Rivera said. "And when I do something good, I'm going to learn from that as well, because I want to continue that."