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During the 4th quarter of the Panthers blow out loss to the Giants QB Cam Newton was sitting alone on the bench with what is turning out to be his trademark towel over his head. Though it was not captured on film Smith later told reporters what he told Newton. I'll recap what happened and then tell you how it impacts tomorrow's game against the Falcons.
Here's how it first kicked off in the locker room after the game when Steve Smith was being interviewed:
Steve Smith to Cam Newton: Stop sulking | CharlotteObserver.com
"I watched D.A. 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 (Newton), ‘You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.’ "
I have to give Smith props to for being spot on in his criticism. Fans don't want to see their superstar sulk period. We want to think it is but a momentary set back that will be righted within 7 days. When HC Ron Rivera was asked about it he decided to stay above it:
"When two players talk about things and it's between them, it stays between them and we move on from there and look at the fact that we play Atlanta on Sunday," Rivera said at his Monday press conference.
..."It's all part of it. You've got to learn to accept it whether you get criticized or you're the one criticizing," Rivera said. "You take it for what it is, and it's a discussion. And honestly, I just wish it was a discussion that would have been kept between the two of them. I don't think it needs to be out there. But that's what happened so I'm going to leave it at that."
I would certainly agree this type of thing should stay on the field. Rivera is right for saying Smith should not have involved reporters. Newton later quickly confirmed the discussion and offered this assessment on the teachings from his 'big brother'::
"I have much respect for Smitty, and yeah he talked to me after the game, but he talked to me the day after too, and will probably talk to me again today. It’s nothing like when Smitty talks to me it’s a big deal because I feel like I can call Smitty on any case—on the field or off the field."
Even more mature than that heart-felt off the cuff response was this sentence...
"Steve Smith talks to me every single day. And obviously it’s a teaching moment,..
Big brother, teacher, friend...all good things to hear if you are worried about friction. Personally I think they are being honest and I'm not really worried about that aspect. What I am growing a little worried about or should I say 'resigned to' is the fact Cam Newton development as an NFL quarterback is solely going to hinge on how fast he develops between the ears.
I'm not referring to learning the play book or making reads, I'm referring to the mental fortitude aspect, the thing that is kicking Tiger Woods butt at the moment. Can they handle the pressure when things start off wrong, can he right the ship before the clock runs out? Can he finish the close games? He was not good at that in his rookie season.
Which brings me to this Sunday's match-up in the Georgia Dome with the 3-0 Falcons. I came across this 'key match-up' prediction from a Falcons web site and thought it truly was key:
Panthers vs. Falcons: 3 key matchups | Atlanta Falcons
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Falcons CB Asante Samuel: Samuel is playing well in coverage and run support. After two down seasons because of quarterback issues, Smith bounced back with a 1,300-yard season in 2011. He has 14 catches for 296 yards in three games. Samuel has blended in well with the Falcons’ defense. "He’s probably the most competitive player in the NFL," Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of Smith. "He’s a very good player."
It made think back to the countless games in which Smith has torched the Falcons. So I have just one bit of advice to the Panthers in their game plan against the Falcons:
Just throw the damn ball to Steve Smith! Just...throw the damn ball! to Steve Smith!....STEVE SMITH!...just throw him the damn baaaaaaaaaaalll DAMMIT!
The more they target Smith the more it opens up the running game. I think this issue will fire Smith up even more and make him play out of his mind (but how will we tell?) Seeing Smith play like a devil will give Newton even more confidence and then we put 35 up on the Falcons. Certainly the defense can hold that? I'll leave that question unanswered for now!
That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. I hope they get my hint.
Otherwise I'm done with the Newton-Smith thing... until it happens again ;)