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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton has turned into Mr. Efficient.
The Panthers third-year quarterback has completed 81.3 percent (35 of 43) of his passes the past two weeks for 446 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions while leading the Panthers to back-to-back victories.
Newton said he thinks the difference in his play is being better prepared to walk on the field on Sunday — or in the case of this week, on Thursday night at Tampa Bay.
"I can't stress enough how proper preparation can increase the confidence come game time," Newton said. "When you come to the line and you know that you've been coached up to expect a certain look — and then you get that look — you don't panic."
Newton is quick to add, "That's not me."
He gives all of the credit to new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and backup QB Derek Anderson for their help in readying him for game day.
"They have made my life easier so that I won't have to think, I just have to react come game day," Newton said.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he's seen a different Newton this year, particularly the past two weeks.
"I see his comfort level in what we're doing," Rivera said. "He seems to be all over it, in terms of understanding the concepts and all the different things that we do as far as our offense is concerned. I think he's got a much better feel of what to expect, how people are attacking him and attacking us."
He said Newton's maturity level has improved, too.
"We've got to understand that he is developing and he's still growing," Rivera said of Newton, who only played one year of major college football at Auburn before entering the NFL draft in 2011. "He was a young man when he got drafted there were a lot of things that he's had to learn."
One of those was learning how to go through his progressions and get to his third and fourth reads.
Newton did just that two weeks ago, waiting long enough for wide receiver Brandon LaFell to come free for a 79-yard touchdown completion that helped seal a victory against the Vikings.
"If you do watch him, he's going through this progressions and he's got a great feel for that," Rivera said. "He's really worked on that, and you're starting to see the fruits of that labor. He's going through the progressions and understanding what it takes."
Still, Rivera acknowledged it's a learning process.
Newton took a pair of costly sacks last week that essentially killed drives because he held the ball too long waiting to go through his reads.
But Rivera understands those mistakes are going to happen — and in some cases need to happen — for Newton to learn the game.
"He's taking the time to do the things he needs to," Rivera said.
Newton is completing a career-high 65.3 percent of this passes this season and is on pace to throw twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions.
Tight end Greg Olsen said he's noticed Newton has become more comfortable in recent weeks with running the offense, which is good news for the Panthers (3-3).
"He's getting a feel for how Shula calls the plays," Olsen said. "And I think that's a credit to the work that he has put in and becoming a student of the offense."
NOTES: Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since last November, but is not expected to play against Tampa Bay. Stewart said he wouldn't rule out playing against the Bucs but said he's realistically targeting a Nov. 3 return against Atlanta.
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