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Cam Newton: Lucky to be alive

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton feels lucky to be alive every time he gets a "glimpse or flash" at the truck he was driving in Tuesday's wreck near Bank of America Stadium.

"As far as when I'm coming back, who cares," Newton said Thursday in his first public statements since the two-car crash that will sideline him for at least Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. "That's not something I'm worried about. I'm just thankful to have breath in my lungs so I can breathe again."

Newton arrived at BOA early Thursday morning to begin rehabbing from the wreck that left him with two small fractures in his lower back. The injuries are similar to what Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered earlier this year. Romo missed one start.

Newton also met with coaches and players before addressing the media for just more than six minutes. He leaned on the podium for most of the interview, obviously still sore from the crash.

"I feel great," Newton said. "I could be feeling way much worse, as we all know. Me being a religious person, God is good. I'm lucky to be standing in front of you guys."

Coach Ron Rivera said it was good to see Newton back in the building. He said the best-case scenario would be for his franchise quarterback to be back on the practice field next week but pointed out there are no guarantees.

Teammates said they were relieved to see Newton, who did not receive any external cuts or injuries in the crash.

"He looked like he'd been in a game where he got hurt a lot," fullback Mike Tolbert said.

Newton described details of the crash, how the driver who pulled out in front of him at first appeared to slow down and then sped up and clipped the back left end of his 1998 Dodge pickup to send it into a roll.

Newton said once he crawled out of the truck he couldn't stop smiling as he looked back at it. He described how, in his book, one plus one always equals two. But looking at the truck, on its side with the roof smashed in, he realized "one plus one doesn't equal two, because somebody is supposed to be dead.''

"And I can't stop smiling because it's like God has his hands on me," Newton said. "I'm on somebody's fantasy league. I think it's the man upstairs. It's great to walk away from something like that."

The intersection where Newton's crash occurred has the fourth-highest crash rate in Charlotte, according to data obtained by the Charlotte Observer from the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

"It's obviously raised a lot of safety question about that whole intersection," Newton said. "I hope something is done about it, because it kind of leaves the driver wondering, 'What's the next driver going to do?' "

Newton indicated there was little he could have done to avoid the accident.

"When I was getting closer he started to speed up," he said of the driver of the other car. "When he started to speed up, I was at a decision where if I put on my brakes I'm going to hit him because of the speed that I was going. I couldn't stop. We were that close to each other.

"When I passed him I figured I was good to go. Then he just clipped the back of my truck. The rest is somebody having the good hands on me."

Sgt. Scott Sherwood of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department said the lift kit that had Newton's truck sitting higher than normal increased the likelihood of the vehicle rolling even though it was moving at the posted 35 mph limit.

"Any vehicle hit hard enough that is turning like that, there is a chance of it spinning and flipping over," he said. "It just makes it a lot more prone to when it sits that high."

Newton said all the prayers and support from social media, family members, friends and members of the Carolina organization have helped him get through the incident.

Newton said being at BOA was as good for his mental state as it was for many teammates who had expressed concern over his well-being. He said he was 100 percent behind Derek Anderson, the backup quarterback who will replace him Sunday.

But he made it clear he doesn't want to be a distraction as the Panthers (4-8-1) prepare for a must-win game against Tampa Bay in the NFC South race. Carolina trails Atlanta (5-8) and New Orleans (5-8) by half a game with three games remaining.

"One thing I don't want to happen and see it happening already, this becoming a distraction,'' Newton said. "I'm looking forward to seeing Bank [of] America [Stadium] being as hyped as they've been this whole year. I'm anticipating a big win for these guys.''

Anderson said it's obvious the experience has been "eye-opening" for Newton. He welcomed him back with a hug, but understanding Newton's soreness, "It was gentle.''

Rivera said Newton appeared down, as though he'd let the team down, on Tuesday night when he visited with him. Newton appeared over that Thursday.

"It's no time to sulk," he said. "There is something that has to be done come Sunday. I'm excited about it. I'm going to be the biggest supporter."