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Cam Newton downplays upcoming homecoming

CHARLOTTE – You never know what you're going to get from Cam Newton during his weekly Wednesday press conferences.

Take for example what he said 10 months ago when, ahead of the Panthers' last trip to Atlanta, he was asked if games in his hometown are personal:

"Every single time. Every single time. Offseasons are better when we beat Atlanta. Let's just say that. We didn't do it last year, so you can just imagine how my offseason was."

Compare that to what he said Wednesday when asked about Carolina's three-year losing streak in Atlanta.

"It don't matter," Newton claimed. "You guys are really searching for stuff. It's the next game. I can't stress that enough. Yes, I'm from Atlanta. Yes, it's a division game. But after all that's said, you still have to find ways to win. That's what it comes to.

"I think I'm beyond all the fluff or trying to find a way to get myself going. I don't need nothing to get myself going."

OK, so maybe Newton is over the whole playing-in-Atlanta thing. That would put him years ahead of fellow Georgia natives like linebacker Thomas Davis and retired defensive end Charles Johnson, who have always admitted having extra motivation in Atlanta.

If Newton is over it, perhaps it's because recent memories haven't been kind.

In 2015, the Panthers' perfect season dreams were dashed at the Georgia Dome. A year later, Julio Jones hauled in 300 of Matt Ryan's 503 passing yards in another Carolina loss. And in last year's regular season finale, Newton didn't complete his first pass until midway through the second quarter during his first ever visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"It was a game that we could've won. It was closer than I think the scoreboard entailed," said Newton, who went 14-for-34 for 180 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and a 31.5 passer rating in the 22-10 loss. "We've just got to start faster. Start faster and everybody (can) just gain confidence from each other."

Which is what happened during Newton's last win in Atlanta, a 34-3 route in the 2014 de facto NFC South title game. But overall, Newton is 6-8 against the Falcons with 25 total touchdowns (18 passing, seven rushing) and 15 interceptions – his most against any opponent.

Even if this is no longer the road game Newton most wants to win, there is this: a Falcons loss would drop them to 0-2, a record from which only 10 percent of teams have ever bounced back to make the playoffs. It would also make the Panthers 2-0 for the eighth time in franchise history, and only once (2002) have they not gone to the postseason after winning their first two games.

All that makes a win Sunday more important than anything personal. Even if some things are being left unsaid.

"I know that it'll probably be louder given that it's their home opener and it's a division game," Newton said. "I think everything is pointing to we've just got to be on our A-game this week – as in every other week.

"I've just got to reiterate the cliché things that us football players must say."

Exactly.

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