“The Dirty Bird era,” Newton recalled, a tinge of nostalgia in his voice. “On Monday, every kid would come to school doing the Dirty Bird. There’s a lot of history with me loving the Falcons.”
Now, he’s trying to beat them.
Newton will lead the Carolina Panthers into the Georgia Dome today, a homecoming for the Heisman Trophy winner who is off to a blistering start as an NFL rookie.
The native of College Park, which is south of downtown Atlanta, threw for more than 400 yards in his first two games, and tacked on a 374-yard performance at Chicago two weeks ago.
“He’s their leader,” Falcons safety James Sanders of Newton. “He’s making plays for them. He’s running that offense and leading them like a 10-year veteran. I’m sure he’s learning along the way, but he definitely doesn’t look like a rookie out there.”
Of course, Newton is more than just a passer. He’s also become Carolina’s primary goal-line weapon, accounting for five of the team’s six rushing touchdowns. Throw in seven TD passes, and he’s had a hand in all but one of the team’s 13 touchdowns.
The only thing missing from Newton’s resume is a few more wins. Carolina (1-4) has been in every game, its losses coming by a combined 18 points.
Well, the team he grew up rooting for as a kid would like to keep that trend going for at least another win. The Falcons need a win, too, in the worst way.
Projected as a Super Bowl contender coming off a 13-win season, Atlanta (2-3) has been one of the major disappointments in the early going this season.
Last week’s loss to defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay was especially frustrating. The Falcons raced to a 14-0 lead on their first two drives, then managed nine first downs and 106 yards the rest of the way.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “We can’t keep winning one game, losing one game, winning one, then losing one. We need to get off that. We need to start being consistent and put together a string of wins, start being the team that we can be.”