Newton leads team into playoffs

CHARLOTTE – Every chance he got during his final press conference before his first playoff game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton talked about the level of excitement he has.

He also talked about what he doesn't have.

"I feel as if I haven't achieved anything worth mentioning – yet," Newton said. "Everyone talks about the great season that myself and others have had, but we all come to each other and say, 'There's nothing worth mentioning unless we have something that we can all share with each other for years and years to come.'

"Those things that I really want, that everyone has set forth for this season, are all in reach."

Newton's quest for a coveted Super Bowl crown will begin in earnest Sunday when the Panthers host the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC Divisional Playoff at Bank of America Stadium.

A Super Bowl ring is an enigma of sorts, a rare commodity that is ordered in bulk. No one will ever earn one on his own, a truth that Newton in his third NFL season both understands and embraces.

"One thing about this stage is that it's not going to be about me," Newton said. "There are a lot of guys that play an integral part in the things that go on behind the stage so to speak, like our offensive line playing as well as they have in this home stretch.

"And we're going to need our fans more than anything. I don't think our fans get a lot of credit for the support that they give us. We know they're going to be pumped to see us play, and we're hopefully going to put up a good performance."

Newton already has two Pro Bowl selections and an NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy to his credit, but his focus has always been on winning games rather than awards. That was made obvious again Wednesday when a reporter asked him what the offense would have to do better than it did in a 10-9 victory at San Francisco in Week 10.

"Whether we put up 10 points or one point, the name of the game is winning," Newton said. "We're not looking back at the production in that game; we're looking more at the things we can do better. We're studying the film such that if that opportunity presents itself again, we'll be ready to handle it."

Newton has been preparing specifically for the 49ers since they edged the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Wild Card game last Sunday to earn a trip to Charlotte and a shot at a third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship.

"We're playing an unbelievable team in the 49ers. We know that," Newton said. "Those guys are ready to go. They're an exciting team to watch and a hard team to prepare for. But I have faith in myself and this team that we're going to have an unbelievable week of preparation – including a great practice today – and come Sunday we'll be ready to go."

In a bigger sense, Newton has been preparing for this moment for as long as he can remember. He won national championships at two different schools in college, but now he's preparing to make his first run at football's ultimate championship.

"Win or go home – that's the excitement of playoff football," Newton said. "This week comes down to simply seizing the moment. We've got an unbelievable challenge at hand. As a team we're excited. As an organization, we're excited. As fans, people are excited.

"What better moment to have, the chance to step up to the challenge and make the most of it."

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