A lot of offseason chatter centered around whether 2011 rookie of the year Cam Newton would suffer a sophomore slump. With the Panthers off to a 1-3 start, some believe that's what they're witnessing.
Statistics, however, don't back that up, nor do Newton's personal feelings about his learning curve.
Generally speaking, being a sophomore is better than being a freshman. That was the case for many of us back in our school days, and it's the case in the school of hard knocks that is the life of an NFL quarterback, where graduating in four years isn't realistic.
"At times you think you've graduated to a different level, but it's still the NFL," Newton said. "If that was the case, you wouldn't see Peyton Manning throw interceptions. You wouldn't see Tom Brady and guys who have played this game for such a long time make mistakes.
"Mistakes are going to happen, but the man that makes the most mistakes in this league loses. Or, in our case last week, the man who makes mistakes in critical situations loses."
Last Sunday, if Newton doesn't fumble the ball backwards to turn a third-down conversion into a fourth-down situation, or if the Panthers' defense doesn't let the Falcons flip the field in the final minutes, Newton is ahead of last year's record-setting pace in the most important statistical category of them all – win-loss record.
Instead, he's right where he was last year, standing at 1-3. Most of Newton's individual stats are strikingly similar as well.
Over the course of his remarkable rookie season, Newton averaged 253.2 passing yards and 44.1 rushing yards per game, accounting for 2.2 touchdowns per game while completing 60.0 percent of his passes.
Through four games this season, he's averaging 253.3 passing yards and 41.8 rushing yards, accounting for 1.8 touchdowns per game while completing 63.6 percent of his passes.
Ideally, of course, fans would like to see Newton's numbers increase over last year's, but consider this. Newton enjoyed his three highest passing totals of 2011 over the course of his first four games – when defenses were ill-prepared for what he threw at them.
Newton is throwing for 31 more yards per game (even with fewer attempts) and completing a higher percentage of his passes this season than he did over the final 12 games of his rookie year. That doesn't sound like a sophomore slump.
The thinking behind the predictions of a sophomore slump makes some sense. Opposing defense now have lots of film on Newton and had lots of time in the offseason to scheme against him.
But with a quarterback as talented as Newton, it's really more about what he does than what the defense does. If he slumps, it's more on his level of performance and his learning curve than it is on what the defense does.
"Football is still football at the end of the day. It's still 11-on-11," Newton said. "The leap from college to the pros is that 11-on-11 might seem like 11-on-13 or 7-on-11. You have to know what your assignment is and trust your assignment.
"In this game, it's all about reacting. It requires no thinking at all. On Sundays, if you think, you get hit. If you react, you put yourself in a better situation."
With each passing game, each passing season, a player with the commitment level and natural ability of Newton will get better and better. Never perfect, but always better.
So expect Newton to make mistakes, like every young (and old) quarterback, but don't expect a sophomore slump. Do expect a junior jump. And don't expect "senior-itis" to set in come 2014.