CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton knows he'll need to bring his passes down if he wants to thrive in the NFL playoffs.
Whether it's leading Auburn to a national championship, throwing for 422 yards in his rookie debut or leading the Carolina Panthers on a last-minute drive to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday Night Football, Newton has been at his best when the games are most important.
Coach Ron Rivera said big games tend to bring out the best in Newton.
The Panthers hope that Newton continues that trend on Jan. 12 when he plays in his first playoff game.
Newton believes he and his teammates will do just that — no matter who they play.
"I feel when we are playing at our best there is really no team that can stop us." Newton said.
But the Panthers' offense hasn't been at its best in the last month.
Newton has reverted at times to his tendency to throw off his back foot, thus allowing the ball to sail over the heads of intended receivers.
Rivera said he's not concerned, though.
"We have been through this before with him before and he just makes a couple of adjustments and he gets it back down," Rivera said. "Everybody goes through ups and downs. So right now he might be in a down."
The Panthers have spent the bye week working to sharpen their offense, particularly the passing game. Over the past four games Newton has thrown for only 763 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per pass attempt. It doesn't help that wide receiver Steve Smith is nursing a sprained ligament in his knee and missed Week 17.
"I need to be better, not missing throws that I'm capable of making," Newton said.
His overall body of work has been pretty solid.
Newton threw for 3,379 yards this season with a career-high 24 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He ran for 585 yards and six scores and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
More importantly to Newton, he got the Panthers to the playoffs with a 12-4 record and a bye for the wild-card round.