A year ago at this time, the country was going gaga over the young quarterbacks who were taking over the NFL. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick were all leading their teams into the playoffs -- in some cases deep into the playoffs -- in their first seasons as starters. It was a revolution.
But Cam Newton had to watch the uprising from the sideline. He and his Panthers failed to make the postseason, finishing with only seven wins and many questions about where he belonged in that group of up-and-comers.
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On Sunday, he gets a chance to answer those questions.
Newton, in his third year as a starter in the NFL, will make his first playoff appearance when the No. 2-seeded Panthers host the No. 5-seeded 49ers in an NFC divisional-round game. He is excited about the opportunity, but he said failing to take advantage of it will leave him feeling just as empty as the previous two postseasons, in which he was the league's most dynamic and talented spectator.
"I feel as if I haven't achieved anything worth mentioning -- yet," Newton said this past week. "Everyone talks about the great season that myself and others have had, but we all come to each other and say, 'There's nothing worth mentioning unless we have something that we can all share with each other for years and years to come.' Those things that I really want, that everyone has set forth for this season, are all in reach."
The winner of Sunday's game will face the top-seeded Seahawks in Seattle for the NFC title next Sunday. The Seahawks beat the Saints, 23-15, in the other divisional game Saturday.
Newton hasn't exactly been a no-show during his career. He's played in two Pro Bowls, was named the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and has never missed a start in the NFL. But in 2013, he became a more refined player. He threw a career-high 21 touchdown passes and a career-low 13 interceptions. He also ran for six touchdowns and had four game-winning drives.
This is only the fifth time the Panthers have made the playoffs in their 19 seasons. They haven't been in a playoff game since the end of the 2008 season, when they were bounced in the divisional round as the No. 2 seed, and haven't won a postseason game since the 2005 season.
Naturally, it's a new experience for many players besides Newton -- only 21 of the 53 players on the roster have been in a playoff game -- and facing a team that represented the NFC in last year's Super Bowl and returns 20 of 22 starters from that game could put them at a disadvantage.
This will be Kaepernick's fifth playoff start. He already has more road playoff wins in his career than any other quarterback in 49ers history.
But Newton said he's relying more on the two national championships he won -- one in junior college and the other at Auburn -- to prepare for the pressure of his first professional tournament.
"Win or go home, that's the excitement of playoff football," Newton said. "This week comes down to simply seizing the moment. We've got an unbelievable challenge at hand. As a team, we're excited. As an organization, we're excited. As fans, people are excited . . . What better moment to have, the chance to step up to the challenge and make the most of it?"
Not to mention the chance to rejoin the revolution.