Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be the site of a Panthers reunion Sunday. Ron Rivera leads the Washington Football Team into a battle against his former employer as Cam Newton is anticipated to make his first start since returning to the organization that drafted him first overall in 2011.
And ahead of that reunion, Rivera still has a preference for his current quarterback Taylor Heinicke over his former passer in Carolina.
Rivera’s first season with the Panthers coincided with Newton’s rookie year. They spent eight seasons together, making four playoff appearances including a trip to Super Bowl 50. Newton realized his potential as a top draft pick and former Heisman Trophy winner by taking MVP honors that same year. Carolina cut ties with both of them in 2019 as Newton dealt with injuries and Rivera failed to get them back to the playoffs.
The pair could’ve had its own reunion in Washington had Rivera pursued Newton — a free agent for most of this season — when starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went down with a hip injury in Week 1. Instead, Washington rolled with Heinicke, who’s led the team to a 3-5 record in Fitzpatrick’s absence. It’s a decision that Rivera still stands by, especially after Heinicke outdueled Tom Brady in last week’s 29-19 upset win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“What I like is I like our quarterback,” Rivera said Tuesday on 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies. “I like who our guy is and I think it’s very important in terms of development of where we intend to go that we find out as much as we can about the guy we have right now or the guys that we have right now. Again, this is about sustainable winning more than anything else. We can’t shortcut this because if you shortcut it, you’re gonna be trying to replace and put something else into play.”
Newton made his first appearance of the season last week, scoring touchdowns on each of his first two plays to help the Panthers beat the Kyler Murray-less Arizona Cardinals 34-10. The Panthers signed Newton just a few days prior in wake of Sam Darnold being placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters that Newton will take first-team reps at practice this week in hopes of getting him acclimated with the playbook in time to start against Washington.
As a result, Rivera will have to gameplan for his former quarterback.
“The quarterback position, he’s as dynamic a personality as there is and he is a guy that’s gonna bring energy…and we’ve gotta contain him,” Rivera said. “If he’s the starting quarterback, we have to contain him, we have to account for his triple threat. He can run the ball, hand the ball off or throw it. He’s a unique individual, he’s got his own personality, he plays with his personality, he plays best when his personality is showing so we’ve gotta be able to get after him early and not let him get comfortable.”