CHARLOTTE – Playing in the postseason requires a balancing act of sorts.
The game technically isn't any different, but intangibly it is. You want to be serious and focused, but you don't want to be tight.
That's part of what makes the playoffs special. It's a different animal. And quarterback Cam Newton is ready for his second crack at it.
"Every possession counts. That's what gravitates fans to this game. That's why you come to play in the NFL. Playoff football is different," Newton said. "You have to turn it up just another notch."
Newton believes experience will help him and the Panthers as they prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Wild Card matchup.
Last year's NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers was Newton's first career postseason game, and there was a lot to be learned in defeat.
"Absolutely. I don't think we got beat talent-wise more than we got beat experience-wise," Newton said. "It was a lot of people's first time in the playoffs, and they didn't know what to expect."
Newton outlined some keys to having success in the postseason.
"Just playing smart. Knowing when to take shots. Valuing first downs and staying on the field," Newton said. "Playoff momentum is different than regular season momentum. The team who has it, they usually get the win."
Newton's adversity-filled 2014 season should also help him as he embarks on the pressure-packed postseason.
First it was the offseason ankle surgery. Then fracture ribs. Newton missed the season-opener. After starting 3-2, the Panthers went winless for seven consecutive weeks. Then came the traumatic car accident which left him with two small fractures in his back before Carolina made a late push to win the NFC South in Atlanta – his hometown.
That's quite a ride for one person to take. Newton said he gained a lot of perspective from those events, and his demeanor reflects that. He has a greater appreciation for what's important, and he's having fun on the football field.
"One thing he has had this year is some experiences in learning and growing. I think we are starting to see it," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Maybe he realized he was getting too serious about certain things. I think it's helped him to stay relaxed and play relaxed. When he's having fun, he's pretty doggone good."
And when Newton has fun, his teammates have fun.
"You do see the trickle down," Rivera said. "You see everybody else take a breath and relax. He's does certain things, and guys will go, 'Wow, he's got it.'"
Now Newton – strengthened by a season that challenged him in so many ways – is ready to prove he has what it takes to win in the playoffs.
"It means a lot, not only for myself, but for this organization," Newton said. "We have our eye on the prize."