CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the final minutes of the Panthers' 36-7 loss to the Giants on Thursday, veteran wideout Steve Smith lit into quarterback Cam Newton on the sideline and told him to get off the bench and stop sulking.
After Newton threw his third interception with 6:36 remaining in the game, backup quarterback Derek Anderson began warming up on the sideline. Anderson came in with about a minute left for the final series.
“I watched D.A. and Jimmy (Clausen), they don't play in 20-something games last year. And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps,” Smith said. “I told him, 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'”
Smith, a team captain, said he used some “unchoice words” with Newton, who was criticized last year for putting a towel over his head and sitting on the bench at the end of losses.
This is the second time in as many seasons the Panthers' captains have talked to Newton about his demeanor. Offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil took Newton aside last year and said he needed to bring more positive energy to the huddle.
Newton was not available for comment Friday. A team spokesman said he would be available on Wednesday, per the team's normal policy with Newton.
Smith said he's more concerned about Newton's development as a person than as a leader. But Smith knows how important Newton is to the organization.
“Cam Newton has a very unique opportunity to be a franchise quarterback to an organization that needs one,” Smith said. “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. in. You can sit there, if this is the worst is going to get you're in for a long day and this is not what it's about.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he handles Newton in his own way, and believes questions about his leadership will be moot when the team starts winning.
As for Smith's exchange with Newton, Rivera said: "He’s a team captain and he went up and expressed his feelings. That’s between them. I do know that team captains have that responsibility.
They feel they have the responsibilities to the team and they’ll handle them accordingly."