CHARLOTTE – Like Panthers fans everywhere, quarterback Cam Newton is counting the days until Carolina opens its season.
In Newton's case, it's a race against the clock.
Newton said Thursday he'll only play in Sunday's season opener at Tampa Bay if he's 100 percent healed from a rib injury suffered two weeks ago. While Newton feels he's on pace, he knows he's not there yet.
"I wasn't full-go," said Newton, who participated in practice on a limited basis one day after being listed out of practice. "I want no doubt in my mind that I'm at 100 percent. I don't want to put this team or myself in jeopardy by stressing to hurry up and getting out there when I'm not able to be what makes me me.
"Every day I have an opportunity. In a couple of days, that will be down to hours, and in hours it will be down to minutes. And then hopefully when that clock starts, I will be on the field."
Newton, who has never missed a football game in his life, wanted to do even more in practice Thursday than he did, but head coach Ron Rivera said the team slowed him down. Of course, slowing down is a relative term with everything Newton is doing in hopes of starting the opener.
"He wants to play, and he's doing everything he can," Rivera said. "He gets treatment first thing in the morning, gets treatment after the morning meetings, gets treatment after the walkthrough, gets treatment after practice, he'll get treatment after we leave tonight, and he'll treat himself later on tonight.
"He'll get at least six or seven sessions in, doing the things he has to do to try to get healthy."
Rivera said all parties involved – from Rivera and Newton to the training staff to general manager Dave Gettleman – will be included in the decision, which might not come until Sunday.
Newton, of course, is disappointed to be in this position. After spending the offseason rehabbing from ankle surgery, he suffered the rib injury in his second preseason game when he lunged at the end of a scramble in a way that exposed a sensitive area to a damaging hit.
"It's very frustrating, extremely frustrating," Newton said. "It's kind of like that old faithful car. You fix the AC, now your carburetor is out. You fix the carburetor, then you've got a flat tire. You fix the flat tire, and now your windshield doesn't work.
"It's frustrating because you know it's a good car. This car has gotten you to this point, and now it's like every single thing is happening. And the thing is, you keep messing the car up not even driving it. That's the most frustrating part - none of the injuries are from the actual season."
Newton, no doubt, wants to be the engine that drives Carolina to a speedy start to the season. But at the same time, he doesn't doubt the Panthers can get moving in the right direction even if he's just along for the ride.
"One thing about it, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb are great quarterbacks," Newton said. "One thing about it, our offensive line is better than ever. One thing about it, our receivers are playing with as much confidence as I've ever seen. And one thing we all know is that we've got a top-10 defense.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we have what it takes to be a great team. So I can't have this selfish approach that it's all about me, because either way, the Carolina Panthers, we're going to be good."