CHARLOTTE – Despite a dizzying series of ups and downs, quarterback Cam Newton had the Panthers right in the middle of the race for the Super Bowl.
Next season, Newton plans to have the Panthers right in the middle of it again, hopefully without some of the down moments that he has the ability to control.
"Consistency - I think that's the biggest thing more so than anything else. That's the biggest word as far as he's concerned in my eyes," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Him wanting to do it, the desire that he has, I have no worry about that. I really don't. He wants it more than anybody I've ever been around.
"Now, we've got to help him to get to that point."
On the whole, Newton's per-game averages ended up in the same range of his first three seasons, but it was a bumpy path to that point. He became the first player in NFL history with 10,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his first four seasons, as well as the first with at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in four consecutive seasons.
But Newton missed the first two games of his career in 2014, sitting out the season opener at Tampa Bay with a rib injury and the home game against the Buccaneers in Week 15 following a car accident that left him with two fractures in his back.
"He started with a surgery - we didn't have him during the OTAs - and then we got him rolling in training camp until he got the rib issue in New England," said general manager Dave Gettleman, referencing ankle surgery that slowed Newton throughout the offseason. "He couldn't play at Tampa Bay, and during the first two games nobody was talking about our offensive line or our speed because we were 2-0. Then we lose two games, come back and beat Chicago, so we were 3-2, then we throw up 37 points against Cincinnati and then the bottom fell out with the offensive line. I'm not making excuses, I'm just talking reality."
In the game that followed the tie at the Bengals, Newton struggled along with the rest of the team, as Carolina dropped six consecutive games to seemingly fall out of playoff contention. But the Panthers, with Newton under center for three games and Derek Anderson for one, won their final four regular season games to become the first team to win consecutive NFC South titles.
"He made some huge strides," Rivera said. "We did some things really well on the offensive side that I really liked - a lot of it had to do with the return to health of a lot of players. It had a lot to do with the shoring up of the offensive line. It was good for us. It helped our running game. It helped our quarterback."
Now the Panthers will go about the task this offseason of providing Newton more help as he also works to help himself.
"He's grown an awful lot, and I do envision that he's going to continue to grow," Rivera said. "I love who he is for us. I love what he's done for us. I think he can really be a special, special, special player."
PANTHERS ADD RECEIVER: Wide receiver Mike Brown, who spent his first three NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has signed a future contract with the Panthers.
Undrafted out of Liberty in 2012, the 5-10, 200-pound Brown played in 18 games with eight starts for Jacksonville, catching 39 passes for 534 yards and two touchdowns. After scoring both touchdowns while posting 32 catches for 446 yards in 2013, Brown caught seven balls for 88 yards last season and spent the last month on the Jaguars practice squad.