CHARLOTTE – Following Sunday's 27-21 defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton downplayed his impressive individual showing, simply stating that "a loss is a loss."
A few days later, though, Newton admitted that a loss to the Atlanta Falcons is a little different – especially given the way the Panthers lost their Week 4 meeting.
"To lose a game like that is always hard, especially when I personally feel like I could have done something that could have had a part in a win," Newton said in reference to Carolina's hearbreaking 30-28 loss in Atlanta. "Secondly, it's a rivalry game. The Panthers and the Falcons have always had a bad taste in each other's mouth when facing each other.
"And with me being from Atlanta, that's an added dimension to the game. I want to win this game."
It's easy to see why Newton would be motivated for the Falcons' visit to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. In the first matchup, Carolina led 28-27 with 59 seconds left and had Atlanta pinned back on its 1-yard line, but the Falcons worked their way into position for a last-second field goal.
Such a finish would not have been possible had Newton not fumbled backwards after he had the necessary yards to convert a third-and-1 near midfield. The Panthers recovered but had to punt.
Newton, who turned the ball over six times in the Panthers' first three games, has totaled just seven turnovers in the last nine.
"That's been a high emphasis since then, protecting the football. Every single ballcarrier has to protect the football," Newton said. "Everything that I had control of that didn't go the way I wanted it to, it always lingers. "
It's also easy to see why Newton and his teammates would be motivated by looking at the big picture. With the team in the market for a new general manager and the coaching staff's future uncertain, the players can't afford to feel comfortable, either.
"Nothing is in stone right now," Newton said. "We know what's going on in this franchise, and we know the head of the franchise is in search of the formula to win.
"With people knowing that, you better start putting something successful on film personally, or the hourglass will be cut short for a lot of people."
But with Newton in no danger of losing his job and beyond the Falcons factor, it would be easy to see motivation as hard to come by. The Panthers are 3-9, and lesser players might look at the next month as merely playing out the string.
"There are a lot of things that motivate," said Newton, who quietly leads the NFL with 8.26 yards per pass attempt. "We still have a chance to surpass the wins that we had last year. That's something we're looking for.
"We have had more focus offensively, but if we don't get the win, it really doesn't matter. We've just got hone in on our responsibilities."