NEW YORK (WFAN) — Cam Newton’s decision to join the Carolina Panthers was the first big win for head coach Ron Rivera.
The New England Patriots were coming off two consecutive Super Bowl trips, with Tom Brady as the reigning MVP, Rob Gronkowski coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and two other Pro Bowl receivers capable of winning the toughest receiver matchup.
Rivera spoke glowingly about Newton on WFAN’s “Boomer & Carton” on Friday. WFAN’s Craig Carton compared him to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who succeeded in his first year.
Rivera echoed the belief that Brady can become the face of the Patriots organization, akin to the role held by Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. In those two cases, the development of young signal callers resulted in remarkable playoffs.
“Look at the Patriots. It’s not something anybody should take lightly,” Rivera said. “These guys want to win. They have some young guys on the team that we did not know anything about and they’re getting better every week.
“Tom Brady’s a special guy that’s been doing this for a long time. He may not have the stuff right now like Peyton had in his rookie year when he won the Super Bowl. But at the end of the day, this is how Tom Brady’s taken it. I don’t think he’s complaining about anything. The guy’s a winner. They still make plays on defense and offensively. They still win a lot of games.”
The injury-riddled Patriots (3-1) will get safety Devin McCourty back Sunday, when they visit the Carolina Panthers (4-0) at Bank of America Stadium.
McCourty sat out the last two games, after tweaking a hip in Week 1, the first game of the season without Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman.
Rivera’s Panthers have been explosive offensively since getting Newton back from a right shoulder injury. Newton has thrown for 24 touchdowns, so far, with seven interceptions in the four games.
Newton’s teammate, wide receiver Devin Funchess, has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. Jeremy Maclin, Kelvin Benjamin and D.J. Moore are among the receiving options for Newton.
“I think it says something about him as a player, that he can adapt himself to what his teammates have done and the system,” Rivera said of Newton. “It says a lot about his ability to see when he can throw the ball and when he’s needed to run the ball, and always figure out what is needed. He’s always been that type of athlete that can adapt to change in ways that other players maybe can’t adjust.”
Newton remains the favorite to win NFL MVP honors, according to a CBSSports.com projection. New England has a .6622 point differential, tied for seventh best in the league.
The Patriots are coming off a 23-21 win over the New York Jets on Monday night in which Brady overcame two interceptions by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass with 23 seconds left. The Patriots’ defense nearly intercepted the last pass thrown by New York QB Josh McCown and recovered a fake punt.
“Tom’s been really, really good,” Rivera said. “The guys really believe in him. We know he’s going to get it done. We’re very, very fortunate to have him, and I’m very, very appreciative of the leadership he has.”
The Patriots are expected to have an offensive alignment Sunday similar to the one they used in last year’s 34-16 win over the Panthers. But Rivera isn’t sure it will have the same impact as against the Jets.
“I’m very proud of their numbers this year. We are where we are in the standings as a result of what they’ve done and they’ve created space for themselves,” Rivera said. “It’s a combination of all those factors and their skill level.”
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