It's Not a "Must Win," It's a "Need to Win"

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In Week 1, no one knew what to expect from Cam Newton and the Panthers in Arizona. 

A week later, no one expected Newton and the Panthers to give Green Bay fits.

This Sunday, most should expect Newton and the Panthers to get their first win of the season.

 

For a young team, playing at home, with a superstar-in-the-making quarterback, this is a game the Panthers need to win.

Of course, it’s not your typical "need to win" situation. It’s not a "Week 16 with the playoffs on the line" kind of thing. 

There’s a need to win Sunday because the Jaguars are simply -- not very good.

There’s a need to win Sunday because this is a game the Panthers should win on their climb back to respectability.

The close calls against the Cardinals and Packers have renewed the energy of Carolina’s fan base. It’s become fashionable around here to say "This team could be 2-0 instead of 0-2."

The thing is: They’re not. 

"It’s tough for us to go around town and people to congratulate us for playing good," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said this week. "I’m glad they’re behind us, but at the same time, we don’t want to just accept that."

Amazingly enough, the Panthers employ the "veteran" starting quarterback this week. 

After cutting David Garrard days before the start of the season, and after the Luke McCown experiment not surprisingly failed, Jacksonville’s throwing Blaine Gabbert into the fire. 

"It’s going to be the battle of the number ones," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said on a conference call with Panthers reporters. "The top two quarterbacks in the draft are about to go battle. That’s your story right there."

Sure, that’s the obvious story. 

The Panthers worked out and researched each quarterback before April’s draft, but ultimately, the decision wasn’t all that difficult for Carolina.

"We walked away feeling very impressed," Rivera said of Gabbert. "There’s just something that separated Cam from everybody."

While Newton versus Gabbert is the easy headline, what may actually decide who wins the game is Jones-Drew versus the Panthers battered defense.

Jones-Drew is as healthy as he’s been in years. Meanwhile, the Panthers defense is a mess -- especially in the middle. Two rookie defensive tackles and linebackers not named Beason and Davis should provide an easy target for Jacksonville’s game plan.

You don’t have to actually be Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to figure out how the Panthers will counter: A steady dose of eight or nine guys in the box, just like the Titans and Jets have already played against Jacksonville.

"They pretty much keep the box loaded and that’s ok," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "We’ve run the ball well to start the year. One thing that’s been lagging is we haven’t thrown it very well and that’s one of the reasons why Blaine is getting this opportunity."

The Jaguars hope Gabbert gives them at least a threat of a vertical passing attack, something Newton’s already done for the Panthers.

Except, it’s not just a threat. It’s what the Panthers do now. 

Remember the days when it was surprising if John Fox took a risk on offense? Now it’s surprising if the Panthers actually run the ball.

The Panthers new "Pass first, run just because maybe we should throw one of those in" offense has resulted in record numbers and a big, bright spotlight for Newton. And for the second straight week, he’s let Panthers officials deflect the national attention.

"It’s not about exposure in this game," Newton said. "If you’re not doing anything that’s worth being exposed, then you’re not going to be exposed."

That doesn’t sound like a guy many feared would rather be an icon or entertainer, does it?

When asked this week what he could do to improve on his first couple games, Newton answered, "Win. Simple and plain." 

The numbers and records have been impressive, but against a very beatable opponent this weekend, the only number that ultimately matters is a "1" on the left side of the standings.

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