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Newton rises above Brady-Manning battle

The arguments began seconds after the Broncos put the finishing touches on their win over the Steelers while Peyton Manning was interviewed on the field. Manning insisted on enjoying the win Sunday and pushed away attention from the matchup against, and comparisons to, Tom Brady.

Brady is the best quarterback in NFL history, a designation cemented in my mind only in the past few years. He has played at a higher level for a longer period of time and won more big games than Manning. Any case for Manning dissolved in his 12-13 playoff record before he lost his fastball.

End of story.

The Brady vs. Manning debate, a natural subplot to the AFC Championship Game and their 17th career meeting, already has become tiresome. It’s also an insult to the best quarterback in the league, which this season happens to be Cam Newton. If he isn’t named the offensive Most Valuable Player, there should be a federal investigation.

Disregard the fact Newton had 3,837 yards passing, which was 16th in the league this season. He threw 35 touchdown passes, second only to Brady. He also rushed for 636 yards and another 10 touchdowns. His rushing yardage was 31st in the 32-team league, and his rushing TD total was tied for second.

For all the talk about Brady being short on receivers this season, and he was, Newton cranked up the offense with journeymen wideouts Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery. Newton did the best he could with them and relied heavily on tight end Greg Olsen the way Brady did Rob Gronkowski.

Still, people were slow to embrace Newton and the Panthers despite their 16-1 record this season entering the NFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Cardinals. Even when they were 13-0, you didn’t hear the Panthers compared to the best teams in history and the accompanying nonsense about the ’72 Dolphins.

Critics whined about their weak schedule while playing in the NFC South. Or they questioned a defense led by Luke Kuechly. All along, however, doubts mostly surrounded the flamboyant Newton and whether he could continue dominating in the playoffs and lead his team to a Super Bowl.

In the NFL, where so much can change from one week to the next, the 10-year age difference between Carson Palmer and Newton qualifies as a generation gap. It’s about three times the average length of an NFL career. They play entirely different styles and come with entirely different personalities.

The NFC title game marks the first time two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks will meet in the playoffs. Newton engineered the highest-scoring team in football this season. Palmer and the Cards were second.

Palmer, a dropback passer with a cannon arm, subscribed to old-school quarterbacking techniques. He’s reserved on the field like Brady and Manning. Newton also has a strong arm, but his size and agility allow him to run around tacklers or run through them when he’s not throwing over them.

Newton has irritated opponents with his exorbitant celebrations that fly in the face of stodgy purists who refused to embrace his look-at-me approach. But he’s ideal for the younger, hipper, let’s-take-a-selfie crowd that can’t get enough flair from in-your-face players like Newton who are taking over the NFL.

But as Newton suggested, if opposing teams wanted him to stop unleashing his inner Superman, they should have prevented him from reaching the end zone. Rather than celebrate his success, fans have bombarded him with hate mail. I would like to think race is no longer a factor, but it makes you wonder.

Like it or not, Newton is a face of the league. He’s also the unquestioned leader of the Panthers, who have shown that nothing is more entertaining than winning. They jumped to a 31-0 lead over the Seahawks but were upset afterward Sunday for becoming, as Newton said, “butt-tight” and allowing Seattle back in the game.

It’s time for everyone else to, ahem, loosen up.

As you would expect, Carolina fans can’t thank Newton enough for taking them on a ride that comes along only every so often. Bet the house a good many people who migrated from Buffalo to Charlotte over the past two decades remember the feeling that sweeps through a football town during a postseason run.

The Panthers have scored 31 points or more seven times in eight games. The one hiccup came in their only loss. They believe they can do no wrong. You would need to rewind the clock 30 years for a 15-1 team that was as loose and had as much fun as the Panthers have had this season.

Ah, yes, the ’85 Bears.

The Bears made a music video that landed on MTV back in the days in which the music television station played music on television. Their performance in the video was, in a very strange way, completely awesome. When it came to singing, that team knew plenty about playing defense.

Kids were swept up in Jim McMahon’s sunglasses and headbands and Refrigerator Perry’s girth and Mike Ditka’s intensity and Walter Payton’s sweetness. I’m sure Panthers coach Ron Rivera remembers it well. He played for the ’85 Bears and knows success is fleeting. Carolina should enjoy as much as they can, while they can.

I seem to recall an older, stuffier generation not understanding why younger America adored the Bears and their collective anti-establishment persona. It was because McMahon and his teammates were refreshing and carefree and not Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach or Archie Manning.

Cam Newton isn’t Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. At the moment, he’s better.


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