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Cam Newton senses game's importance

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton understands how much Sunday's game means to head coach Ron Rivera.

A popular figure in Chicago to this day, Rivera spent 17 years with the Bears organization as both a player and coach. Rivera appeared in 149 games (62 starts) as a member of the Bears, and was a second-year linebacker when the organization won Super Bowl XX. After working as the Bears quality control coach in 1997-98, he returned as defensive coordinator from 2004-06. Rivera oversaw one of the top defenses in the NFL, helping guide the team to a pair of division titles and a Super Bowl berth in 2006.

And in case his players weren't sure how he felt about it, Rivera on Monday said this is not just another game and has special meaning to him. Newton understands the significance.

"Absolutely," Newton said via conference call Wednesday. " In this particular game that we play ... you try to find any type of edge that gets you going. Of course, knowing Coach Rivera and the type of coach he is, he will want this win more than anything.

"But we also know we are playing an excellent football team that has excellent players on its team. But as far as what coach Rivera has had in his past, his relationship he's had with the Bears, is something special in its own and we know what he wants in this upcoming week."

The No. 1 overall selection of the 2011 NFL draft gave Rivera high marks as a first-year head coach. The Panthers, who posted a 2-14 record in 2010, sit at 1-2 after losing its first two games to Arizona and Green Bay by a combined 14 points.

The Panthers defeated Jacksonville 16-10 on Sunday at home.

"He's an excellent head coach," Newton said. "Very player-friendly as far as taking care of guys on this particular team.

"He has an open-door policy. From the looks of it, no one on this team has had a problem with coach Rivera yet. He's a straightforward guy who will tell you how he feels about any particular situation. He's a straight shooter. If you're not doing what you have to do, he's going to tell you. That is good for what this team needs."

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.