CHARLOTTE – Ron Rivera's belief in quarterback Cam Newton has never wavered, but after Newton's latest shoulder-related struggles, the Panthers head coach believes that a healthy Taylor Heinicke will give Carolina a better chance to win its home finale Sunday against the Falcons.
"We had the opportunity to visit with the doctors, the trainers and Cam himself, talking with (general manager) Marty (Hurney) and the owner (David Tepper)," Rivera said. "Obviously, we felt that our best opportunity to win the football game was to have a healthy Taylor start for us this week and we'll go from there."
Rivera said Newton will remain on the 53-man roster, saying "crazy enough things can happen" – a reference to the fact that the Panthers mathematically remain alive for a playoff spot.
But coming off a Monday Night Football loss to the Saints in which Newton simply wasn't capable of being effective because of his lingering soreness in his throwing shoulder, Rivera and the powers that be made their decision Tuesday evening and delivered it to Newton on Wednesday morning before practice.
"It was a very good conversation with Cam, and he understood," Rivera said. "He understood our thinking behind this and he's disappointed, he's frustrated. You know him; he wants to play. This is one of those things that, you know, we had a great conversation with him and he understands going forward.
"It's a very difficult decision. I believe in him 100 percent. I really do. I believe he does everything he can to give us a chance to win. That's why this is a tough decision, but it's also I think the decision we need to make."
Rivera declined to discuss any thinking related to the long term for Newton, not even really going beyond the Falcons game.
"That's not a discussion for me to have with you guys. That's really between the player and the doctors and the trainers and all that stuff," Rivera said. "We'll do everything we do as far as the team is concerned. We'll always talk and listen to what's going on, but right now we're not at that point; we're at the point where this is the best thing for the short term and we'll see what happens."
Newton was on the practice field Wednesday, doing what he could to support the undrafted Heinicke as his first NFL start nears.
"I liked how the guys rallied around him today in practice. I thought those things were great," Rivera said. "I like the fact that Cam was right there too during every play, talking about what was going on. It's a good situation right now.
"Taylor is excited. It's an opportunity for him to play, it's an opportunity for him to get out there and show what he's capable of doing and it's good for us also to know what he can do going forward on this football team."
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Falcons.