CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton doesn't know exactly what it will be like to trot onto the field for an NFL playoff game. He doesn't even know what team will run out of the opposite tunnel.
But Newton does know a thing or two about performing on big stages, regardless of the specific circumstances in play.
"This is going to be a new venture for me, and I'm going to try to make the most of it," Newton said. "We have to worry about ourselves first. I feel as if when we're playing at our best, there's really no team that can stop us."
Newton's focus this week – more than a week away from his postseason debut – has been on getting the Panthers in the best possible shape to play winning football come January 12. He called the week "therapeutic," a welcomed opportunity for him and his teammates to get right physically and mentally.
"We've put ourselves in a situation to reap the benefits this week. We've got to get healthy and get better," Newton said. "We have a lot of corrections to make – red zone production, running the ball, completing the ball, me being more consistent in the passing game. Those are things we need, and we have been working on them.
"This week has been therapeutic for…a lot of reasons – ankle, toes, arms, head, mouth, everything. There are a lot of guys in that training room each and every day in the cold tub or hot tub, trying to get their bodies back at 100 percent. That's where we're all going to need to be come game day."
Newton has a knack for being at his best when he's put in a situation for the first time, a trend that clearly could be of benefit come time for the NFC Divisional Playoff.
In his first game at Auburn, Newton passed for 186 yards, rushed for 171 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. In his first and only college bowl game, he piled up 329 yards of total offense and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to the national championship.
In his first game with the Panthers, all Newton did was throw for 422 yards, the most ever for an NFL rookie in his first career start and tied for the most by a rookie quarterback, period.
"He's a big-time player," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Big games do tend to bring out the best in him. There's something about that for him."
The bye week created by the Panthers' 12-4 record has allowed Newton a moment to reflect on how well his teammates have responded on the big stage of late. He first singled out Luke Kuechly's 24-tackle performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week 16 but also mentioned Graham Gano's 53-yard game-winning field goal in Week 10 at San Francisco; Steve Smith's fourth-and-10 catch that made the Week 12 comeback at Miami possible; and the defense's last stand last weekend in Atlanta that wrapped up the NFC South crown and a playoff bye.
"It's crazy to look back at those now," Newton said. "Living in the moment, you don't realize how big of an impact a play can make. But it's really credit to what people always say, that football is a game of inches.
"You have to play each and every play like it's your last because it may be, and it may have a lasting impact on the season."
And as for Newton's best play to date?
"I'm still thinking that my best plays are yet to come," he said.