Panthers go back to future to change history

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's a bit of irony that the Carolina Panthers begin their quest to change recent history at the stadium where they began it.

Little did coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton realize when they made their Carolina debut at the University of Phoenix Stadium in 2011 that the 28-21 loss would set a trend that continues to haunt them.

The Panthers are 2-14 under Rivera and Netwon in games decided by seven or fewer points. They are 0-2 this season with a 12-7 setback to Seattle and 24-23 loss at Buffalo.

A 38-0 victory over the New York Giants before the bye week has been touted by Rivera as the catalyst for change. But to be a catalyst, Carolina has to win for the second time in four games, something it has not done since 2008.

So this 1-2 team is headed West looking for a new beginning. It does not really matter that they go to the place where Rivera and Newton got their start. Rivera had not even thought about the significance until it was brought to his attention.

“More than anything else, it’s about winning,'' he said. "You most certainly do want to go back and win. I didn’t think about that. But yeah, I guess so. It’ll be interesting to see how we react to it.”

Ditto for Newton, who has twice as many reasons to have fond memories of Phoenix Stadium. That is where he led Auburn to a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the 2010 season BCS Championship game with nearly 350 yards of total offense.

That is also where on Sept. 11, 2011 he set the rookie passing record previously held by Peyton Manning with 422 yards, an effort that propelled him to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

But Newton does not think about that stadium any differently than he does the others. The only game that matters to him is the upcoming one and what it could mean for the Panthers.

"I've got to make this stadium something that, at the end of the day. I leave 2-2 more than anything,'' Newton said. "That's about as symbolic as it gets.''

For that to happen, Newton will need to perform at the level he did against the Giants when he passed for three touchdowns and ran for another.

Arizona is the best team at stopping the run Carolina has faced this season, ranked second in the league. Considering Carolina ranks third in the NFL in rushing it will be up to Newton to soften the front line with his ability to dance and bulldoze out of trouble.

In other words, follow the script offensive coordinator Mike Shula used against the Giants in which Newton was given more freedom to run.

As Rivera has said repeatedly this week, he liked the game plan that put Newton in the position of making plays.

From that aspect, the 2011 trip to Phoenix Stadium was the start of something special.

“It’s like every week, you expect something great from him,” Rivera said of his quarterback. “He’s got that ability. He’s learning, growing. He’s taking some big steps. I liked what I saw last week.

“He’s still morphing into the player you hope he can be. I’m still excited about it, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

But to make this trip meaningful, for the Panthers to morph into the kind of team Rivera believes it can be, it will take a win.