CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton was about to end his midweek news conference Wednesday when he stopped, looked around the room and said, “Sure?’’
As in, are you sure there are no more questions?
It was his way of having a fun moment with reporters after more than a month of seemingly being at odds with them, including the day he was criticized for walking out of his midweek interview as a question was being asked.
It was by far the best mood the Carolina Panthers quarterback has been in for a while as he smiled -- and even whistled a few times when talking about Tom Brady’s age -- when answering questions.
That the Panthers (6-3) have won consecutive games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Atlanta after consecutive losses probably has something to do with it. That Newton is back running with abandon probably has something to do with it too.
Oh, how he loves to run.
That he’s preparing for a Monday night game against the Miami Dolphins definitely has something to do with it, because the 2015 NFL MVP loves the prime-time spotlight.
But this seemed to go deeper than that. This was about that feeling people have when they feel they’re on the verge of accomplishing something the naysayers didn’t think was possible.
“You know, this being my seventh year, you’ve got that special feel for a season,’’ Newton said. “With the veteran leadership we have, I feel as if we can’t do no wrong.’’
Newton believes the Panthers are peaking at the right time. He senses this could be one of those seasons like 2015, when Carolina made it to the Super Bowl, even though this season has been filled with road bumps.
Many of those bumps, between his play on the field and his behavior off it, were created by Newton.
But the quarterback sees Monday night’s game as a chance for the Panthers to put all of that behind them and make a statement.
“It’s going to be a big game for us to prove not only to ourselves, but the fans, that we are the real deal,’’ Newton said.
Newton is not alone in feeling something special is on the horizon. Three of the team’s top players -- tight end Greg Olsen, outside linebacker Thomas Davis and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly -- also feel it.
“Really, coming into the season I sensed something special,’’ the 34-year-old Davis said. “When we were able to go out and draft the guys that we drafted, and bring in the guys in free agency that we brought in, just to add to the core we already had, I felt we had the chance to be something special.’’
Adding them to the core of veterans that helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl two years ago is starting to pay dividends, particularly for the defense, which ranks first in the NFL.
That unit is playing with a swagger similar to what the offense had in 2015, when Newton won the league MVP award and the Panthers led the NFL in scoring.
“If we just fine-tune and execute the way we’re capable of, we can be so much better,’’ Davis said.
Newton sees that, and understands that if the offense can catch up, the team has a chance to do something really special.
“I think he just likes the guys on our team,’’ Kuechly said of Newton. “We all get along really well. Everyone likes playing football, and we have a lot of pride in what we do. Guys just have fun with each other.’’
Fun isn’t a word that was used often a year ago as the Panthers finished 6-10 after going 15-1 and reaching the Super Bowl the previous season. Newton was so dejected after the 2016 season that he referred to his “love-hate relationship’’ with football. He even talked about getting away from the game.
“Now I think he’s had a chance to reflect on those last two seasons,’’ Rivera said. “He’s learned a lot from it. You see it in his play. You see it in the way he handles things.”
Newton isn’t the only one who seems to be having more fun lately.
“I think it is fun for everybody,’’ he said. “I just like the way this team is forming together, especially with what’s been happening in recent weeks. We’ve come together, still driving, knowing we haven’t played our best game yet.’’
Unlike this time a year ago, the Panthers control their playoff fortunes. They’re a half-game behind New Orleans (6-2) in the division and have four of their final seven games at home.
They also should get back Newton’s favorite target, Olsen (broken foot), when he comes off injured reserve after the bye next week.
“These next couple of weeks are going to be big,’’ Olsen said. “The way things are kind of coming all together, this time of the season is when you kind of make your future a little bit. You start winning some close games. You start pulling some games out. You start playing some big opponents in games that, at the end of the year, are going to come into play with tiebreakers and seedings.
“We’re entering the fun time of the year now. You can start feeling things coming together.’’
Newton, who makes no secret of being a poor loser, obviously feels that way. He’s feeling the same excitement in the locker room and at practice that he senses others are feeling around town, something he missed last season.
“Everybody is like on edge. Prime-time game,’’ Newton said. “We’re peaking right when we’re supposed to peak.’’