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Strickly Panthers: Newton not done

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NEW ORLEANS - Cam Newton's historic rookie season has officially come to a close, but Newton flew back to Charlotte on Sunday evening with much the same approach he took when he flew to Charlotte the day after being selected No. 1 in the NFL Draft.

In Newton's mind, football season is never truly over.

"It's still a learning process," Newton said following Sunday's 45-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints. "A lot of people don't understand what goes into being a player in this league - let alone a quarterback. There are a lot of things I've learned that make me appreciate football even more."

Newton said he hasn't yet figured out his long-term plans for the offseason, but he has a plan for the short term.

"Throughout the playoffs and the Super Bowl, I'm going to stay busy," he said. "Whether I'm working physically or mentally – throwing or film work - I don't think the season is over for me."

In Panthers head coach Ron Rivera's postgame press conference, he said he told the team following the game that everything from here forward is focused on the first Sunday of next season.

That prompted a reporter to ask Rivera if he delivered a message specifically to Newton.

"I don't think that I necessarily need to give him a message. I think that he understands exactly what he needs to do," Rivera said. "He's special. The truth of the matter is that there are certain instances and certain areas that we (as a team and staff) have to catch up."

Rivera said he believes the Panthers can be a very good football team in the near future, and Newton is the foundation for his belief.

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Sunday, Newton became the first quarterback in NFL history – rookie or otherwise – to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards in the same season. He already owns the NFL's all-time record for rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback with 14.

"He set a standard, a very high standard for any rookie quarterback coming in, and he wants to improve," Rivera said. "He's gotten better in so many different areas. His basic fundamentals just continue to get better and better.

"Mentally, he's getting the grasp of this offense. He's understanding defenses better and better, and you're starting to see leadership come out of him. He's really taken his game to next level, and there's so much room for him to grow. He's got such a high ceiling."

Newton helped Carolina become a competitive team this season by leading an offense that ranked last in the NFL in points and yards last season to ranks of fifth and seventh in those respective categories this season.

He did it without the benefit of a full offseason, with the NFL's work stoppage limiting him to individual work and a handful of player-organized workouts leading up to training camp.

This time around he'll have the entire offseason at his disposal, and he'll spend it in the same system for the first time in awhile. Newton attended three different schools over his final three college seasons.

"I can't even tell you how much it's going to help," Newton said. "This season took me by storm, but without any coaching staff leaving – fingers crossed – it's going to be the first time in a long time that I've had the same offensive philosophy for two years going forward.

"I look forward to it and look forward to doing my part to make this an elite team."

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