Football

In the Cam Newton-Josh Norman saga, next chapter could be the most defining yet

In 2015, Carolina Panthers teammates try to separate quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Josh Norman during a skirmish at training camp in Spartanburg. While they no longer fight, they’re still competitive against one another. Norman is now in his third season with Washington, which plays host to Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.
In 2015, Carolina Panthers teammates try to separate quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Josh Norman during a skirmish at training camp in Spartanburg. While they no longer fight, they’re still competitive against one another. Norman is now in his third season with Washington, which plays host to Newton and the Panthers on Sunday. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

From inter-squad fights during practice to the annual summertime rivalry between their families — all of it oozing with trash talk, of course — the ongoing saga between Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Washington cornerback Josh Norman has been well-documented.

Well, now it’s time to write the next chapter.

Newton and the Panthers travel this week to Washington, where Norman and teammates will try to wash the bad taste out of their mouths after a recent Monday night beat-down. And though Carolina’s divisional rivals in New Orleans hung 43 points on Washington this week, there are plenty of defensive statistics (more on them later) to prove that performance was more anomaly than exception.

And as was the case during his All-Pro season with the Panthers, Norman is a big reason why.

“Fearless,” Newton said Wednesday describing Norman’s style of play. “He’s not a person who hesitates to take chances, and that’s his gift and his curse. And from watching the little film that I did see Monday night (of the Washington-New Orleans game), that’s him.

“That doesn’t negate him being a great player. I still go into each and every game pointing out who the impact players are on that defense, and he’s definitely one of those players.”

cam-josh celebrate
Quarterback Cam Newton, left, and cornerback Josh Newman played four seasons together with the Carolina Panthers. Above, they celebrate Norman’s interception against Pittsburgh in a 2013 exhibition at Bank of America Stadium. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com



Only this season, perhaps compared to Norman’s first two seasons in Washington, he has more help. Washington’s defense has been one of the NFL’s best through five weeks this season, especially in its pass coverage. The team is allowing 227.8 passing yards per game, seventh-best in the league, and just 92.5 rushing yards per game, sixth-best.

Washington defensive back Josh Norman talks about being challenged by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.

Plus, when you take out that 43-point blunder against the Saints, Washington’s defense had only allowed 44 points to its three other opponents.

Now, Norman’s individual statistics won’t exactly leap off the page — he has no interceptions and 18 tackles through four games, but that also largely has to do with the reputation he’s built as one of the league’s elite corners. Why would Newton, or any other passer for that matter, throw at Norman’s receiver when you can... you know, go anywhere else?

And make no mistake: As was the case during Norman’s four seasons with Carolina, he’ll have no problem letting anyone know what kind of player he is.

“He’s loud,” a grinning Newton said of Norman. “Then he gets into your personal bubble, like when you’re talking face to face, and I don’t like that. Every people’s got a bubble — Josh wants to get all into your bubble and talk, but that’s just him.”

The lone time Newton and Norman played one another outside of training camp sessions in Spartanburg or weekly practices came in 2016, the year after Carolina rescinded its franchise tag on Norman and let him sign with Washington as a free agent. In that game, a 26-15 Panthers win, Newton threw for 300 yards and no interceptions, although Norman did drop a potential pick in the end zone. Norman also only saw five passes come into his coverage area, three of which were completed for 32 yards.

So both played well, only Newton got the result he wanted. Which sounds something like this summer. ...

“We always play each other (as) a family,” Newton explained, “and this offseason it was volleyball, and we slapped them around.”

Then a pause, and an addendum: “Like you know we should.”

But all trash talk aside, this latest chapter of the Newton-Norman saga could be the most epic - and defining - one yet.

Think about it: Norman’s defense is playing as well as nearly anyone else in the league. But, so is Newton’s offense, especially as his arsenal of weapons grows. From Devin Funchess to Torrey Smith to Christian McCaffrey, to the emergence of first-round pick DJ Moore, to the return of Curtis Samuel and hopefully this week Greg Olsen, Newton has as many talented pass-catchers surrounding him as at any point in his eight seasons with the Panthers.

It’s a matchup, really, of Goliath vs. Goliath — both in terms of playing and trash talking.

“I don’t think (Josh) has any grudges or anything — you’d have to ask him — but anytime you play against your former team, it might have a little extra incentive,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “The one thing I like about Josh is every week he plays pretty hard. So I think you’ll have to ask him about that, but Josh will play hard no matter what.”

As will Newton, who is hoping to improve his record to 5-0 all-time against Washington and 4-1 for this season.

And, naturally, 2-0 against Norman head-to-head.

“I just like playing. If he’s on the other side, so be it,” Newton said. “I think he’s got his hands full — I’m just teasing, side joke.”

But did you expect Newton and Norman to exchange texts or phone calls this week?

“For what?” Newton said, smiling. “We don’t have nothing to talk about. I’ll talk to him in the summertime.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

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