CHARLOTTE – Some football players swear by a lucky article of clothing or a rigid pregame ritual.
Cam Newton relies on something else to make sure the Panthers' bubble doesn't burst.
"I just depend on Wrigley's Winterfresh chewing gum to get me through adverse times in games," Newton said. "If you make a big play, even if the gum is rock-solid you can't take it out. You may put another piece of gum in, but you've still got that playmaking gum.
"Now if you're sucking, of course you've got to toss that gum out and get two other pieces."
Of late, Newton has been icy-cool and is savoring the long-lasting flavor. Still, with the Panthers riding an eight-game winning streak entering Sunday night's showdown against the New Orleans Saints, Newton is guarding against the Panthers being reduced to the flavor of the month.
"Yes, it's great to be a part of this, it's great to be around this type of atmosphere," Newton said. "But to hell with it if we don't continue going and don't continue challenging ourselves to strive for high heights.
"I'm all about working to make things better. We're on a high horse right now, and we've got to stay on it. It's not going to be given to us."
The Saints, with first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pulling the strings, will give Carolina's offense plenty to chew on. But Newton, who faced Ryan's defense with Dallas early last season, is now better equipped to take on such a challenge.
He knows how to walk up to the line of scrimmage and chew gum at the same time.
"He's learned to trust his teammates and not feel pressed to do everything. I think that's one of the big reasons he's having success and has improved," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Understanding the concepts of what we do offensively and understanding how to attack the opponent – he's learned so much the last three seasons. It was a different style of offense that he played, and he only played one year of major college football, so there was still a growth period.
"Coming to us (as a rookie) not having OTAs and minicamp, even though he burst onto the scene, he was making plays based on his abilities rather than really, truly knowing what he was doing. Now, he knows it and he feels it. He's got confidence in himself and his teammates."
Witness the game two weeks ago in Miami, Rivera said, when Newton changed out of a play called by offensive coordinator Mike Shula and ran 5 yards for a touchdown. Or last Sunday against Tampa Bay, when Shula called a play that Newton had suggested the night before that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
"I'm just trying to take what the defense gives me and am believing in coaching," Newton said. "(Quarterbacks) Coach Ken Dorsey and Coach Mike Shula have been great with me as well as Derek (Anderson) in helping my maturation as a football player, and obviously it's shown on game day."
Newton has been spreading the ball around like the neighborhood kid with an oversized tub of bubble gum, and it's leaving a good taste in everyone's mouth. Sunday, he'll face one of the best in the business at doing just that in Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Football fans would be wise to stick around for the primetime affair.
"He's one of the greats if not the greatest in this league as far as passing the football," Newton said. "Of course you've got Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees is right there in those conversations.
"When I look across the field and see I'm playing a guy like that, I pay homage to it but hope at the same time that he makes a lot of mistakes. But watching him in the past, things like that won't happen. We just have to keep our foot on the pedal as an offense and keep putting up points."