OK, first off, since this keeps coming up in my emails and blog post comments:
I was very critical of Cam Newton in this blog and in Saturday's newspaper for the same reasons Steve Smith was critical of him on the sideline Thursday night -- basically, he sulks too much when things go badly.
But I had no problem with Newton doing his "Superman" thing when the Panthers finally scored on his 1-yard TD run and cut a Giant lead frmo 23-0 to 23-7 in the third quarter. A lot of folks did have a problem with it, judging from the feedback I'm getting. Cam was celebrating there, yes, but he was also trying to get the fans and his teammates back into the game -- and God knows they hadn't had anything else to celebrate.
So let's be clear: I'm fine with the Superman thing in almost every situation -- I wouldn't do it in the fourth quarter down by 30 points on a score. But in this case the game was still (a tiny bit) in doubt and you don't want Newton to tamp down his positive emotions, because that's part of what makes him great when he is great. He doesn't need to be a robot, he just needs to be a better leader when the Panthers are losing.
OK, now onto the NFC South:
We now have a fairly good sample size in the NFC South -- three weeks worth of games. And the obvious conclusion is this -- there's Atlanta, and then there's everyone else.
The Falcons (3-0) are already at least two games clear of the rest of the NFC South field. They are one of only three undefeated teams left, joining Houston and Arizona. And they were the only team that won this week in the division -- an impressive 27-3 victory over San Diego Sunday. New Orleans (0-3) had a horrible home loss to Kansas City, blowing an 18-point lead, and Tampa Bay looked decent but lost by six to Dallas.
So the good news is the Panthers (1-2) definitely could finish second in their division. And, if you consider this good news, they have a shot at cutting into the Falcons' lead Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.
The bad news is that it's hard to imagine the Panthers winning the South right now after that 36-7 blowout loss to the New York Giants, and they hardly ever beat the Falcons (especially not in Atlanta). So already it looks a little bit like the only playoff spot they have any shot at it is a wildcard, and that's only if they get about 80 percent better.
If I'm Ron Rivera, this is the week he must challenge his team as he has never challenged it before. The season hasn't slipped away yet, but it sure is sliding toward a bad conclusion unless things get reversed. Panther players had this weekend off and return to work Monday.
And it will be very interesting to see how the Steve Smith-Cam Newton drama plays out this week (see my previous blog post if you missed that). Newton's Wednesday press conference will be watched closely to see if he is taking No.89's advice to heart or if he plans to continue acting the way he does now when things start going wrong.