CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton has meant too much to too many for too long for the things he does to be viewed simply at face value. Every step is part of a legacy bigger than today.
But as he has consistently done since he walked (back) into the doors of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers quarterback did everything he could Thursday to keep the focus on the present, and the immediate goals.
So yes, he's aware that this could be his final home game here. Or that it might not. Or that playing in a platoon with another quarterback might tarnish his legacy in some minds. Or it might not.
For Cam Newton, there is one goal.
"Man, I'm going to control everything I can control. I'm not going to entertain that. And I don't want that to be a hindrance," Newton began when asked about playing alongside another quarterback, and whether he'd sign up for it again in the future. "I'm so focused on trying to win. That you guys have to understand and hear it in my voice. Nothing else is important to me, than winning. I don't know whether that was missed along the lines, since I've been here. But my main focus is trying to find a way to win come Sunday. And that's what it's all about.
"So comparing, what this is, what it's like, man, I'm the ultimate competitor and the ultimate team player. And the ultimate person that's just trying to yearn, desire. I saged, I prayed, I prayed some more, I meditated, just on winning. That doesn't all lead to wins, but at the same time, I'm not about to sit up here and go back and forth on what I will entertain and what I won't. What I am trying to entertain is winning on Sunday so everything else can just be subsided. When you do lose, everything is inflamed, so to speak."
Of course, that's part of the Cam Newton experience.
From the moment he walked into the league (and well before), he's been a star. Every movement tracked. Every word recorded. Every bit of body language or facial expression debated, endlessly.
He's always been that guy.
So now that he's lost four games in a row as a starter, and hasn't played well in the last three (passer rating of 46.0 in those games), there's criticism. Whether it's fair or unfair doesn't always matter. This is Cam Newton we're talking about.
Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson said he thinks some of the scrutiny that falls on Newton is misplaced (and the Panthers' problems on offense are definitely bigger than one player). But Anderson said that players such as Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers — whom he compared to Newton based on their lifetime achievements rather than current context — might have also struggled if dropped into this situation. It's impossible to remove the context of a fired offensive coordinator, 10 different line combinations in 14 games, and the absence of Christian McCaffrey from the struggles.
"Everybody expects him to come in and save the day, which he is trying to do," Anderson said. "But it's not all just about him."
And Newton keeps trying to remind people of that, not that he's trying to dodge the blame — he gets that he's not playing terribly well at the moment.
"We've got to play complementary football," Newton said. "That's not pointing fingers, that's pointing thumbs."
But he also keeps trying to steer the focus off himself and onto the larger goals. So while there are plenty of people talking about Sunday's game against the Buccaneers possibly being his last one here, he's not ready to consider the historical significance.
"You keep using this word possibly. I'm not worried about possibly," he said. "I'm just worried about the next game, which is the most important game to me because it's the next game. that's important because we need to win. That's it. That's the only thing. I'm not worried about possibly this, possibly that. I'm just focused on winning. That's the only thing that matters to me."
He's also not naive enough to know that anyone will allow it to be considered that way. This is still Cam Newton.
"You can definitely see his significance and his presence and how much he means to the culture, being here," Anderson said. "I'm happy to experience that first hand and be part of that."
It's one thing for his teammates to see it. Newton's not acknowledging it, though.
"At the end of the day, we're all trying to win," he said. "And I don't think I've made myself clear, and I do want to make myself clear. It's like, bro, we're in dying need of a win. For the community, for the organization, for just the overall swagger and brashness of that locker room.
"At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. Whatever it's going to take, it's going to take. Whether it's two-quarterback system, three-quarterback system, wildcat, wild dog, trick play. Call it up. Dial it up. I'm going to hold myself accountable to make sure I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing when I'm supposed to be doing it."
And for Cam Newton, on Thursday, that meant not talking about anything past Sunday.
No matter how much it means to anyone else. And it means plenty.
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Buccaneers in the home finale on Sunday.