Panthers need Newton to bounce back against Eagles

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes the return of two starting offensive linemen will give Cam Newton more time to make plays in the passing game.

Carolina is mired in a three-game losing streak entering Monday night's game at Philadelphia and is 1-5-1 in its last seven games.

Newton has struggled during the last three weeks, held to 527 yards passing and one touchdown with three interceptions during that span. Many of his throws are sailing high or wide or his intended target.

Part of the issue is Newton has been under siege in the pocket, sacked 10 times in the last three games.

The return of left tackle Byron Bell and left guard Amini Silatolu - who both practiced full on Thursday and aren't listed on the team's injury report - should help an offense that ranks 26th in the league. Starting right guard Trai Turner is also improving, but may still be another week away.

''A lot of it is not just about him,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Newton's recent struggles. ''We can put it all on the quarterback and say it's all about the quarterback, but this is a team game.''

Rookie Kelvin Benjamin has dropped a pass in the end zone in each of the last two games for Carolina (3-5-1). And Newton has gotten little help from his running backs, which have been hobbled by injuries all year.

Playing behind an offensive line last Thursday night that included four undrafted players hasn't helped either.

Rivera said earlier in the week if the Panthers are going to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they'll need to stay healthy on the offensive line the rest of the way.

''In order for us to make a run. ... we've got to have some groups have some continuity, the (offensive line) being one of them,'' Rivera said. ''It's a group that's been up and down because of the injuries.''

Newton did some self-scouting during in five days off players had since last Thursday night's loss to New Orleans and said he needs to get better, too.

''I think we're at that point right now that everybody understands what's at stake,'' Newton said Wednesday. ''Every week is a must-win for us.''

Mark Sanchez, who is filling in for the injured Nick Foles for the Eagles at quarterback, can relate to what Newton is going through. He struggled in New York and wound up getting cut by the Jets.

Sanchez said Newton ''will be just fine'' if he continues to trust the coaches and his preparation and not let outside distractions get to him.

''He's a heckuva player, a physical specimen with incredible talent,'' Sanchez said. ''He's one of those guys that you play against and it's like, `Dang, man. The guy is a stud.' So he has to understand that he's one of heckuva player and to never change no matter what. When things aren't looking so good from the outside just put your head down and keep working and studying and trust his ability.''

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is pretty confident Newton will bounce back, too - he just hopes it isn't Monday night.

He knows all about Newton's potential.

Newton led Auburn to a 22-19 win over Kelly's Oregon Ducks in the 2011 BCS national championship, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns and running for 64 yards on 22 carries.

Kelly called 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton the ''complete package'' at quarterback.

''I remember just watching him in pregame warmups and thinking, `holy smokes this guy is a legitimate quarterback,''' Kelly said. ''He can throw it. Obviously he broke Peyton Manning's rookie (yards passing) record. He can make all the throws and then, unfortunately, if you defend all the throws he has the ability to pull it down and run. He can run around people, he can run through people. He's built like an NBA power forward.''

Newton's future appeared on the rise entering this season after leading the Panthers to the NFC South championship.

But after a 12-4 season, Newton's overall record as a starter has fallen to 27-28-1. He's been hobbled by rib and ankle injuries and he's completing just 57 percent of his passes this year with only eight touchdowns in eight starts and five interceptions.

''I just want to win, whether I play good, bad or indifferent,'' Newton said. ''. We are past due for a game that proves we are what we thought we were.''

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