CHARLOTTE – If there's one thing Cam Newton learned last season, it was how to deal with adversity.
Offseason ankle surgery, a preseason rib injury and an in-season car accident tested Newton's resolve like never before.
He came out the other end better for it and is now ready to apply the lessons learned to a new season that starts Sunday in Jacksonville.
"Keep going," Newton said. "You have to handle those 'what-if' moments. We can't let those dwindle our performance.
"We have to have the mentality that it's not going to stop us from what we want."
What the Panthers ultimately want is a third consecutive playoff appearance and this time one that ends with the ultimate victory rather than a disappointing loss.
Some what-if moments have already cropped up before the season opener, with top receiver Kelvin Benjamin lost for the year to a knee injury. Newton expects more moments that will test the team against the Jaguars.
"We know mistakes are going to happen, but we just have to handle the what-ifs," Newton said. "What if injuries happen? What if the defender doesn't do what we've seen him do so much on film? We have to find a way to win football games, and that's been our main focus this offseason.
"We have to control everything on our end – our preparation, our attitude as well as our performance – come Sunday. It's going to come down to execution."
To be able to handle the what-if moments in the big picture, Newton knows he must handle the ones that develop every snap. Even in his fifth season, that's still a process for Newton – one that's heading in a positive direction.
"Consistency is key, as is accuracy and finding those checkdowns, finding completions," Newton said. "Calling a play isn't like playing the game of Madden. When you've got live bullets and you call plays and you've got receivers open but you don't have time to step into a throw, you've got to find a completion.
"That's something that I'm maturing into, that I'm morphing into as a player. No matter the situation, you've just got to find a way to keep the bus going forward. When you hear the beeping sound on the bus, that's not good. It's up to me to get the offense to the last rectangle on the field."
That's a goal that head coach Ron Rivera sees his quarterback better able to meet with each passing week.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Rivera said. "He had a good offseason – his first full, healthy offseason in a while, and he looked good, especially on the last drive he played in the preseason. We'll build off of that and keep the momentum going as we go down to Jacksonville.
"His timing is a lot better as far as getting the ball out sooner, getting the ball out on time and getting the ball where it needs to be. Those decisions are coming along."
And Newton, like his teammates and his fans, can't wait to see what the Panthers will be able to produce this season. The wait for the first chapter to be written is almost over.
"I'm ready to go," Newton said. "There are a lot of guys in that huddle, including myself, that are anticipating the start of the season – embracing the whole process, not just Sundays.
"It's about guys living up to their potential. We have to be able to live up to it. As long as we do our job the way we know how, it's going to be fun."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game at the Jaguars.