Anyone who has followed Steve Smith's 12-year history with the Carolina Panthers knows that the best player the team has ever employed is not always a paragon of virtue.
But the wide receiver was exactly right Thursday night to get into quarterback Cam Newton's face and tell him to stop sulking after Newton threw his third interception in the Panthers' 36-7 loss to the New York Giants.
Newton was benched after that interception -- the game was out of hand and coach Ron Rivera, who made that call, decided he didn't want Newton to take any more shots. Newton then sat down on the bench, which didn't sit well with Smith (who, like most of the Panther starters, would continue to play).
"I watched D.A. [Derek Anderson] and Jimmy (Clausen), they don't play in 20-something games last year. And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps,” Smith said Friday. “I told him [Newton], 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'"
Smith also said Friday he used some "unchoice" words with Newton and that he "got onto" him and "lit into" him. And good for Smith, a team captain who is one of the people Newton most respects in the locker room. Newton staying immersed in his private pain isn't good for anybody. Hearing this from Smith will be much more effective than hearing it from the fans and media who have oftentimes criticized the same sort of behavior.
Newton wasn't available Friday to talk about this. Panther coach Ron Rivera was and basically said that the incident was between Newton and Smith and that he would deal with Newton in his own way, as he always does.
Newton did talk after the game Thursday. If you saw any of his postgame press conference, you know that his responses were sometimes close to inaudible and delivered in an eyes-closed monotone. At that time, Newton called the game "a performance of embarrassment" and also praised Smith, saying: "Smitty gave unbelievable effort today. We needed more guys with Smitty's mentality -- simple and plain."
Added Newton: "If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers, I would be holding my head down in shame of the product that was out there tonight."
Certainly, I'm not blaming all that loss on Newton, I'm not trying to pile onto him and I'm not saying Anderson should start -- Newton is the quarterback who can lead this team to great heights.
But with his talent comes great responsibility, too. When you're the quarterback and likely the team's best athlete, too, other players are looking to you for leadership in the most difficult times, and games like this are among those. Newton is charismatic and Superman-esque when he wins and everybody loves him, but he's too often a poor loser when he loses.
Newton is 23 years old, not 13.
He needs to start acting like it.
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