CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton deserved an Academy Award after Wednesday's performance.
The Carolina Panthers quarterback, as he has in past years, made Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game against his hometown Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium sound like just another game on the schedule even though this never has been just another game for the former Westlake High School (Atlanta) phenom.
"I mean, you guys are really searching for stuff," Newton deadpanned in his weekly news conference. "It's the next game. Yes, it's a division game. After all that is said, you still have to find ways to win. I think I'm beyond all the fluff and trying to find a way to get myself going.
"I don't need nothing to get myself going."
From the standpoint that Newton hopes this isn't the biggest game he plays in Atlanta this season, that's correct. His ultimate goal is to return for Super Bowl LII on Feb. 3 to face the AFC champion, not the Falcons.
A Super Bowl title is the one thing missing from Newton's résumé, which includes the 2015 NFL MVP award. It's the one thing that keeps Newton from being talked about in the same breath as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and a handful of other elite quarterbacks.
The same goes for Atlanta's Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP.
The sportsbooks gave Newton and Ryan each 20-1 odds in June to win the 2018 MVP award. That tied them for sixth with second-year Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, coming off a torn ACL, and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo with seven career starts.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for players who have won two of the past three MVPs.
It's also not a surprise.
Newton and Ryan seldom get the same level of respect as other top quarterbacks. Statistically, there are three reasons -- Super Bowl titles, playoff wins and consistency.
Ryan and Newton both lost the Super Bowl after their MVP season. Brady has won five Super Bowls and Rodgers one. Both have won Super Bowl MVPs.
They also have won multiple regular-season MVP awards -- Brady three (including 2017) and Rodgers two.
"It's just a function of the Super Bowl and that creates an aura around you," NFL Hall of Fame executive and ESPN analyst Bill Polian said as he explained why Newton and Ryan don't get more respect. "If you lose the Super Bowl you're 2-14 in the eyes of a lot of media people, so you disappear.
"It's an echo chamber, if you will. It's Brady, it's Rodgers, it's [Ben] Roethlisberger, whoever the bright young star is. That fourth person fades in and out depending on how good the team is."
So don't be surprised if Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold moves into the MVP conversation after a Week 1 win at Detroit.
"I'm not sure I'd put a lot of stock in it," Polian said of the MVP award. "It tends to be a knee-jerk, headlines kind of award. And since neither Matt nor Cam have won a Super Bowl, people don't think of them in the same vein as the people that follow them on a daily basis."
That neither has a stellar playoff record doesn't help. Newton has been to the playoffs in four of seven seasons; Ryan in six of 10. Brady has 15 playoff appearance in 17 seasons and Rodgers eight in 10 since becoming the starter.
Then there's the matter of consistency. Newton entered this season with a career completion percentage of 58.5. His 35 touchdown passes during his MVP season were 11 more than any other season in his career and 13 or more than he's had in either of the past two seasons.
Ryan sandwiched his career-best 38 touchdown passes during his MVP season between 21 in 2015 and 20 in 2017.
Rodgers and Brady, by the way, rank 1-2 all-time in touchdown-interception ratio. Rodgers with a 4.05 ratio (316-to-78) leads Brady's 3.05 (491-161) by a wide margin.
Newton ranks 25th at 1.68 (158-94) and Ryan is 11th at 2.05 (260-167).
In terms of quarterback ranking since 2011, when Newton entered the league as the overall No. 1 pick, Ryan has a case to be discussed with Rodgers and Brady. He has an average ranking of 6.2, compared to 4.5 for Brady and 7.0 for Rodgers.
Newton is well back at 16.6.
Ryan also has passed for 4,000 yards in seven straight seasons, tied for the third-longest streak in the NFL. Newton hasn't come close to topping 4,000 yards since his rookie season.
His biggest edge over Ryan -- and every other quarterback in the league -- is rushing. Newton has 4,378 yards rushing and 55 rushing touchdowns. He didn't slow down that part of his game with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, rushing for a team-best 58 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 16-8 victory against Dallas.
Ryan has 1,031 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
"Matt's always been in that elite category in terms of what he does for his team," Polian said. "In Cam's case, being more inconsistent simply because he's not a typical quarterback hurts him.
"And he doesn't have as good of weapons around him as Matt does."
Newton also doesn't have a solid offensive line in front of him heading into this game, with starting left tackle Matt Kalil, right tackle Daryl Williams and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen all out with injuries. Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner also could be out with a concussion.
But it's Newton's uniqueness as a running quarterback that gets him attention and allows the Panthers to survive games in which he doesn't have the best protection.
"I don't know why they don't get the credit they deserve, but Cam's definitely the most athletic quarterback I've been around -- period," Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
Polian called the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton an "anomaly in the history of the game."
"I've got to go back to Fran Tarkenton, who was a completely different body type, for somebody that did what's Cam's done," Polian said of the former Vikings quarterback who was 6-foot and 190 pounds. "That probably hurts him, too, in the sense he's unique, to the people that vote on the MVP."
That Newton and Ryan play in the NFC South with Brees also doesn't help, because the Saints quarterback is the division's standard of excellence and likely a lock for the Hall of Fame.
"And rightfully so," Polian said. "When you're thinking about the elite you're talking about Rodgers, Brady, Drew. No one is going to argue that they're not first-ballot Hall of Famers.
"That hurts the guys in the division, because the standards on which they're judged is so different. And Drew has the one Super Bowl."
And for Newton and Ryan, elite respect ultimately comes back to winning the Super Bowl.