CHARLOTTE – Cam Newton can't wait for the season to start, can't wait to run out of the Bank of America Stadium tunnel Sunday knowing that the first regular season game has at long last arrived.
At the same time, Newton doesn't want to get ahead of himself. And with the mature approach that he's taking into his third season, Sunday is almost too far in the future for him to talk about on Wednesday.
"My personal goals are to be 1-0 at the end of Sunday when I lay my head down," Newton said. "But I don't want to look that far away."
Looking back at the fate that has befallen the Panthers all too often in close games over his first two seasons, Newton has taken the "one day at a time" mantra and personalized it to "one play at a time."
One play certainly could have made all the difference in Week 5 of last season when the Seattle Seahawks visited Carolina as they will again Sunday. In the Panthers' 16-12 loss, the offense scored but a field goal yet still drove within a single yard of the potential game-winning touchdown in the waning minutes.
Newton has the solution in mind for getting over the hump in close games going forward: He hopes to avoid putting the offense in those types of tight spots whenever possible.
"Execution – that's what it comes down to," Newton said. "There were some things with pitching and catching where we were just off a little bit. With running the football, it was just off a little bit. Those plays linger, linger, linger, and then you look up and it's the fourth quarter, and we need a drive.
"We can't put ourselves in that situation and just expect something good to happen at the end when we've had opportunities throughout the game."
The Panthers didn't avoid such situations late last season, when they won their final four games by an average of 13 points. Contrast that to a five-game losing streak early in the season that included the Seahawks game. Carolina opened the slide with a lopsided loss to the New York Giants, then dropped the next four came by a total of 12 points.
"We've got to finish," Newton said. "We've got to maximize our opportunities whatever the situation. If we have to score, we have to score. If we have to run the football, we have to run the football, even with everybody in the stadium knowing it."
Everybody that will be in the stadium Sunday knows that Newton, for all his individual success through two record-setting seasons, wants to set the win-loss record straight in 2013. While his last two college seasons resulted in national championships, his first two NFL seasons resulted in losing records.
Yes, the Panthers have made steady progress in that regard behind the arm and legs of Newton, who helped Carolina win six games his rookie season after the Panthers won just two the previous year. In 2012, the Panthers won seven games. Of the five quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall since 2005, Newton's .406 winning percentage through two seasons is the best of the bunch.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the top pick in 2012, is excluded from that list because he's played just one season, but it was an 11-5 season. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson also went 11-5 as a rookie last year, and Robert Griffin III led Washington to a 10-6 mark.
Those rookies weren't asked to build from a 2-14 record the previous year save for Luck, but he inherited a team that had won 10 or more games for nine consecutive seasons before Peyton Manning's injury derailed them in 2011.
Regardless of the circumstances involved, those quarterbacks are where Newton wants to be. He has confidence that he can lead the Panthers there sooner rather than later, but he realizes the best way to get there is to keep his focus on "sooner" rather than "later."
"Yes, it comes down to this game, but we're not going to overlook the opportunities that we have leading up to this game," Newton said. "If we make the most of each and every play and each and every series, everything will take care of itself.
"I'm just back there right now in the pocket with no pressure, no blitzing. When people see that red jersey, they hold up. Come game time when the bullets start flying, we'll see how well I have evolved and matured."