It's been all the talk around the Carolina Panthers' franchise -- in and out of the building. Nobody seems too impressed with the ways in which quarterback Cam Newton is dealing with individual failure, several teammates have called him out about it, and there were even recent rumors of Newton seeing a sports psychologist about the fact that he's "pouting" in games when he should be leading his team back from adversity -- whether he creates that adversity or not.
Late in Carolina's Week 3 36-7 loss to the New York Giants, receiver Steve Smith berated Newton for showing what he considered to be inappropriate attitude. Newton threw three picks and no touchdowns, but that wasn't what was getting up Smith's nose about the whole thing.
"Cam Newton has a very unique opportunity to be a franchise quarterback to an organization that needs one," Smith said by way of explanation after the game. "Statistics don't lie. Athletic quarterbacks, they either excel or they fail. And I told Cam that. This is an opportunity for him to learn — at that time they were benching him — and observe. They put D.A. [Derek Anderson] in. You can sit there -- if this is the worst [it's] going to get, you're in for a long day, and this is not what it's about."
Last season, linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil told Newton the same thing. Newton seemed to take heed, as one would do when told something by a couple of tough guys weighing over three bills each, but it hasn't taken effect on the field.
In a great profile by Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, Newton's parents, Cecil and Jackie, talk about how they've seen this for years. No matter the situation, if the younger Newton isn't playing as if he believes he should, it takes him over. It started when Cam was about 13 years old, and played in a pickup softball game.
In the last inning, Cecil Newton drilled a fly ball to deep center field over his son's head. Cam Newton ran back, reached up for the ball ... and watched it go over his glove by a couple of inches.
A member of the other team raced around the bases with the winning run. Cam Newton was devastated.
"He didn't get (the ball). We won the softball game," Cecil Newton said Friday over lunch at a seafood restaurant near the Atlanta airport. "He sulked the rest of the weekend over that play."
Cecil, a former star college defensive back who had a cup of coffee with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1980s, remembered one game when Cam and his brother, Cecil Jr., botched a quarterback-center exchange at Westlake High in Georgia..
The boys retreated to the TV room of the family's home, where they rehashed the game, and that play, with their dad well past midnight.
"We sat up all night, 'How could that have happened?' " Cecil Newton said.
No matter where that comes from -- that attitude that seems to drive Cam Newton's teammates nuts -- it clearly has to be managed. Newton's Panthers will face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and when Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones were asked if quarterback Matt Ryan would exhibit such behavior, it was indicated that the real pros don't do such things.
"He would never do that," White told Michael Irvin of the NFL Network. "We've taken some beatings around here, but he'd never do that, it's just not acceptable."
Newton set the league alight in 2011 when he broke several rookie passing records, but it's been said for decades, because it's true: You find out how good a quarterback is when the league gets a "book" on him, and he learns to adapt and transcend whatever happens as a result. Newton has every possible physical tool to be one of the best in the game, but it's the muscle between his ears that needs the most work right now.
Newton's teammates understand that he's going to take losses hard. They need to know how he'll bounce back.