By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — “Losing is not acceptable in this locker room. In this county. In this state. In this area. In this region. So, Cameron Newton. You need to pick. Your. Expletive. Up. That’s what I’ve learned.”
That’s how Cam Newton closed his press conference on Thursday, capping off a 20-plus-minute session where the quarterback left no doubt about where his focus is heading into Sunday’s must-win game in Buffalo. While football fans in New England surely care much more about what Newton does on the field than what he says on a video conference with reporters, they’ll likely be heartened by the fact that despite the team’s three-game losing streak and despite Newton’s physical and mental errors since returning from the COVID list, the 31-year-old continues to display the type of attitude that is required in order to make a turnaround possible.
“Make no mistake about it — yeah, more than ever,” Newton said when asked if he remains the same “ticked-off dog” that he promised the Patriots would be getting during the summer. “Because I feel like when you’re trash, and when you put on performances like I did this past week, anybody can start talking to you, from the whispers and the chirpers and the things. But when you’re doing your job and when you’re good enough, like certain people, they … it doesn’t even get to your desk. But the fact that you’re down or you may be low on confidence at that particular point of time, you’re an easy target, because you’re down. But when you’re going, that’s growth. That’s maturation, for me. And when you talk about dog, that never leaves. It’s just a mentality. I live my life in that specific type of way. It was handed down to me, from coaches to my dad, from peers and different teammates. You know what I’m saying? It never leaves. Now I may take a hit. But at the end of the day, you know who you are and that’s all that matters.”
Obviously, Cam has taken quite a hit. After looking like a rejuvenated MVP in the perfect place for the first two weeks of the season, Newton was mediocre in Week 3, missed the team’s fourth game due to a positive COVID-19 test, and has been flat-out bad in his two games since returning.
As such — given the market he’s in, and his head coach, and the nature of the NFL — he’s taken quite a bit of heat from all corners. Rather than fume about what people are saying about him, Newton said he’s focused mainly on himself in the past few days.
“At the end of the day, when you play the way I played on Sunday — terrible — you open the doors,” Newton said when asked specifically about Jeff Garcia’s clothing criticisms. “I mean this whole week, starting on Sunday, from the first quarter was a humbling experience. Getting a tap on the shoulder [from Bill Belichick] was a humbling experience, from, saying, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about [playing Jarrett Stidham].’ Hey, that’s all humbling. I’m not used to that. So, now I’m at a crossroad that says hey if you don’t pick up your play, then that’s going to be a permanent decision. So when that happens, you open up a whole reservoir, so to speak, of different people kind of attacking you.”
(Cam added that Jeff Garcia made a good point that was duly noted, but his mom looks forward to his game-day wardrobes too much to ever make him consider stopping his grand dress-up parties.)
While Newton accepted the significance of Sunday’s game against the first-place Bills, he playfully rejected the notion that the impending trade deadline next week will add an extra weight to the game.
“Listen, man. Good vibes, good energies. You’ve got to speak things into existence, and I rebuke what you just said, you know, I’m saying, sir,” Newton said when asked if the roster could look different next week if Sunday goes poorly. “But no, in all seriousness, no I don’t. That’s not something that I can control. I’m pretty sure I got all faith in the guys in the front office, Coach Bill and what his desirables are. And that’s what I stick to. My main focus is to play a better version of what I’ve been playing here lately, protecting the football. And that’s the key to victory.”
Newton also provided a much deeper look at what is going on mentally for him, beyond the cliche of “he’s thinking too much.”
“I have to do my part. Coach Josh [McDaniels] says it best: we can’t put ourselves in a position where we have to reteach certain things. And especially for me, you know, I kind of hit a point, coming off Corona, where it’s just like, OK, I know this. But in essence, I don’t know it good enough, or I don’t know it the way I should know it because I only saw this particular type of looks. Now as defenses start scheming you up and start realizing this, that and the third, you have to be able to have answers for it. And it doesn’t matter how many reps we get in practice. It doesn’t matter how many examples Coach has to show me on film, or what I see on film. You have to still be able to react and react to what their schematics or their wrinkle is in each and every week.
“So given whatever the call is for us, you have to have an outlet for every single thing, and, when you’re behind the center and you control pretty much the whole layout of a lot of things, you have to have a clear mind and know that, ‘OK, that last one wasn’t good, the last one was great, the last one wasn’t good enough. OK, how can we move forward?’ And I’m on a constant journey to perfection. And yeah, you know, having these last couple of days in practice and whether it’s been dry or rainy or whatever, my mentality has still been the same. I still want to control to make it a smoother transition leaving the huddle, and by the time I say hut, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to go how I’m supposed to get there, and getting there.”
Newton’s honesty and depth adds a tremendous value to his press conferences, as he works around the standard sports cliches to try to provide some weight with his words. It’s also notable that even in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his career, no question and no topic is off limits. For a player with Newton’s star power, that’s not usually the case.
To wit, some of the topics covered Thursday included:
–Advice to Tua Tagovailoa, who will make his first NFL start for Miami this weekend: “Oh my goodness, you know, what’s crazy? So I get home last night, and I don’t know if it was a rerun, or it was just his show. My cousin had it on. And it was a great piece just showing — I never really knew him. I still don’t really know him, but I think he’s a great person. He’s one of the few people that you don’t necessarily have to know, but you just say, ‘Man, he looks like a good dude.’ He went to the other school … that we don’t speak of, being from my alma mater. But at the end of the day, I would say man, just take it all for what it’s worth. Man, just stay prepared and know what you’re good at. Because if you know what you’re good at, you know what you can always revert to. And he has all the skill sets to be a great quarterback in this league and I’m wishing him the best of luck, unless he’s going against us.”
–His favorite Halloween candy: “Unfortunately, a lot of the candies aren’t vegan, because of the gelatin. But I’m a big marshmallow guy, and they make homemade marshmallows here, which are tremendous. But I’m a old school circus peanut type of candy eater. Or I eat Skittles. Sour Patch are vegan, surprisingly, and the strawberry or the watermelon. So, cotton candy, too. But candy as a whole in my household, you know, with all these kids, man. [Whistles] They’ll be set to go all the way through December.”
–On how he came upon landing on the jersey number 1 in the NFL, which is now worn by Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa: “I wouldn’t say I was the first person to have kind of put people on, obviously going back to Warren Moon and him being such a pinnacle in trailblazing opportunities for quarterbacks like me. I made the decision because when I first went to Carolina. I wanted number two, and number two represented the second son, which I am from my mom. Jimmy Clausen had number two at the time, and I wasn’t prepared to pay the bill that was requested. So I just — I picked another number.
–On Julian Edelman, who will now miss some time due to a knee procedure: “He’s my guy. His presence was missed today. And what he brings to this team, he’s more than just an unsung hero. He is everything the Patriots represent: Heart. Tough. Resilient. Gritty. That’s Julian Edelman.”
Really from his first time meeting with the New England media, Newton has done nothing to indicate that his focus is anywhere other than where it needs to be. Yet whether it’s his postgame press conferences, his weekly radio appearances, or his mid-week chats with reporters, he’s able to provide unique and valuable insight while speaking freely and comfortably — something that’s certainly not usually the norm for players in Foxboro.
Cam Newton Live Press Conference 10/29: https://t.co/ItxbDYDwDz
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 29, 2020
Obviously, the work on the field on Sundays remains the most important part of Newton’s second chance. Really, it’s the only important part.
Still, it’s a pleasant experience to be able to hear from a player in that position — in life, in his career, in society, etc. — share freely his thoughts, motivations, self-criticisms, and fondness for circus peanuts.
And the man knows how to close with a flourish.
“Cameron Newton, you need to pick. Your. Expletive. Up. That’s what I’ve learned.”