CHARLOTTE – Cam Newton doesn't intend to sit around this Sunday when the Panthers are on a bye and watch football all day.
But with each passing Sunday, more and more people are watching Newton play football.
Newton is being touted as a top candidate for league MVP one quarter into the NFL season. Newton's head coach can see why and appreciates the sentiment, but he doesn't plan to spend his bye weekend campaigning for hypothetical votes.
"We're trying to not listen to the noise," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It's nice to know you're getting that type of recognition – that people are beginning to see the positive qualities you have as a football player – but we try to keep our focus.
"The thing that's more important than anything else is winning games."
"That's not important right now. That's irrelevant," he said of the national attention. "No disrespect to anybody, but we're just four games into, hopefully, a 19-week season."
A 19-week season would equate to a trip to the Super Bowl, and the Panthers are off to a good start in that pursuit, entering the bye with a 4-0 record. The play of Newton, now in his fifth season, is a prominent reason for the strong start.
"It's his best complete football as far as how he's doing things, the command he has of the game and of what we're doing on the offensive side," Rivera said when asked if Newton is playing the best football of his career. "He's understanding how people are trying to attack and then putting us in the best position to have success. His decision-making process – and a lot of things are put on his shoulders with protections, coverages, audibles, checks – he's got a lot of leeway in what we're doing now, and you see the effectiveness of what he's doing.
"He understands. He's getting it."
And Newton, to his credit, also understands that he's still got growth in front of him.
"There are still things when you watch film that you feel like you can get better at, and that's the great thing about this game. The perfect game is still out there," Newton said.
What exactly can he do better?
"I say it all the time – just consistency at my position. Knowing when and when not to do certain things, and having good technique. Following through, having great feet in the pocket, trusting the protection, knowing the protection. Just having the offense working extremely fluid."
For the next few days, though, Newton will allow himself a moment to have other things on his mind, many of them involving food and fun.
Still, he won't allow his mind to stray too far from what's on the horizon for the Panthers.
"I'm going to hit a couple of restaurants in Atlanta – I'm a breakfast guy. I'll spend some quality time with the family. May catch my youngest brother's football game," Newton said. "And I'll be trying to get mended up – mentally and physically.
"I was teasing about slices of pizza and stuff like that, but that might just be the plan for tonight or Thursday, maybe Friday. But Saturday, Sunday, you've got to push away from the table a little bit. I plan on having a great time, just like everybody else, but I have to be a professional about it and still be mindful of being ready to go when we get back."
View photos from Cam Newton's career in Carolina from his rookie year in 2011 through 2019. Newton is Carolina's all-time leader in nearly every quarterback statistical category.