Perry Fewell had only a glimpse of Cam Newton but knew right away that he was seeing a star.
"We played him in our first preseason game last year," the Giants' defensive coordinator said. "After that game I said he was a franchise quarterback . . . I felt like this guy has a lot of poise. Just with some experience and some time, he's going to be a really nice player."
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That time didn't take long as Newton had one of the most prolific first seasons in NFL history. He set rookie records with 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) and 4,051 passing yards. He became a fan favorite, a fantasy stalwart and one of the most recognizable figures in the league.
But one thing he hasn't done yet is perform on the league's biggest regular-season stages. That begins Thursday night.
Newton will play in his first NFL prime-time game, making his debut in front of a national audience consisting of many who have seen his exploits in highlight form but have had rare opportunities to watch an entire game. And he'll be doing it against a team used to playing under the brightest of lights, the Super Bowl champion Giants.
His reaction to the exposure? Big whoop.
"It's no different, man," Newton said this week. "You don't just get up for some games, get up for most games. Every week is a must-win that we have to have and we have to set [as a goal] for ourselves. You do not do things just because you feel as if you could lose this week. How does that sound?"
Like someone who's been in big spots before. And thrived in them.
Sure, all of his NFL starts have come during daylight hours -- 15 of the Panthers' 16 games in 2011 were 1 o'clock kickoffs -- but Newton was also the quarterback for Auburn's national championship team two years ago.
Newton was impressive as a rookie, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he's become better as a second-year player.
"I think his overall game has improved," Rivera said. "You go back and look at where he started from, and the rawness of his abilities, and you see his base fundamentals have gotten better. His footwork, his posture, his throwing mechanics have really improved. He has taken steps forward in an overall sense."
The Giants may have had a short week to prepare for Newton and the Panthers, but they saw enough.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," safety Antrel Rolle said. "He's a great kid, and he'll present different challenges for us. We have to get our motors running. It's going to be a long game, a long 60 minutes."
To guard against his running, the Giants may use a spy to shadow Newton throughout the game.
"When we face a guy like Cam and a guy like Michael [Vick], you have to have 11 guys, not just the linebackers alone," Fewell said of who will be focused on the quarterback.
"But I do like our linebackers and their speed and the way that they can run and be able to defend these guys. You have to have all 11 guys looking at these guys and really know where these guys are, because they can bust out at any point in time."
That's something Newton will be looking to do. What better time than prime time?