Panthers QB Cam Newton has closed the gap on Seattle's Russell Wilson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The gap between Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson seemed as wide as the distance between North Carolina and Washington state two years ago.

In a 2013 ESPN.com preseason story about five young quarterbacks and what a panel of 12 people with NFL front office, coaching and scouting background thought they needed to do to become great long-term, Newton ranked a distant fifth.

Wilson was first.

But the gap has closed considerably heading into Sunday’s game between the Panthers (4-0) and Seahawks (2-3) in Seattle.

This isn’t a panel talking.

This is based on statistics.

Newton has a record of 20-9-1 since Week 6 of the 2013 season. Wilson is 23-9. Prior to that, Newton was 8-12, compared to 15-6 for Wilson.

Newton has thrown 43 touchdowns and 22 interceptions since Week 6 of 2013. Wilson has 44 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. Newton has a Total QBR Rating of 60.0. Wilson’s is 65.9. Newton has a sack percentage of 6.9. Wilson is at 8.7.

The gap is even closer since week 16 last season. Newton has a 7-1 record, his only loss coming at Seattle in a January playoff game. Wilson is 6-4.

Newton has 13 touchdown passes and six interceptions during that stretch. Wilson has 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The biggest difference, and it decidedly favors Newton, is he’s been sacked only 12 times. Wilson has been sacked 36 times, including an NFL-high 22 this season.

“I’ve played against both of them," said Carolina defensive end Jared Allen, acquired in a trade with Chicago last month. “They’re both equally talented. They’re both equally on top of their game.

“Each possesses minor different skill sets, but they’re both phenomenal."

Mental errors brought Newton’s performance down prior to 2013. He ranked fifth in the intelligence category in the ESPN.com survey.

Newton’s mistakes were a big reason the Seahawks beat Carolina 31-17 in the NFC divisional playoff game. He had two interceptions, one returned 90 yards for a touchdown, and a fumble that led to a touchdown.

But those mistakes were rare toward the end of last season. They’re even rarer this season. Newton is playing what coach Ron Rivera calls his “most complete football.’’

Rivera reminds that Newton, 26, played only one year of major college football – Auburn in 2010 -- before Carolina selected him with the first pick of the 2011 draft. Wilson, also 26, played four years between Wisconsin and N.C. State.

“So the thing for Cam has been his maturing process and development, and the truth of the matter the maturing process and development of our offense,’’ Rivera said. “We’re using his skill set the right way, and he’s adapted to it very nicely. He’s a lot of fun to watch out there.’’

Where Newton still lags behind Wilson is head-to-head. He’s 0-4 against the Seahawks, having completed only 54 percent of his passes for one touchdown in the three regular-season meetings. He has no rushing touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 70.6.

He hasn’t been able to make the big play when it counted. Wilson has. He completed a 23-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left in a 13-9 regular-season win in Charlotte in October, and then threw three touchdown passes in the playoff win.

Newton is looking forward, not back. The only thing he wants that Russell has and he doesn't is a Super Bowl ring.

“Those are old statistics,’’ he said. “I’m eager to face them on Sunday. I know the stats say one thing, but those are old things I refuse to dwell on.’’

That aside, Newton has closed the gap enough that people aren’t talking about it like they did two years ago.

“The guy’s a good player. Bottom line,’’ Allen said. “Your careers are judged later. It’s about consistency. Right now, we’re headed in the right direction.’’