Taylor Heinicke's return to Carolina is hardly the reason why Bank of America Stadium is expected to be packed on Sunday afternoon.
That's because Cam Newton, who the Panthers signed last week, is expected to make his first start back with Carolina in Week 11, against none other than the Washington Football Team and his former coach, Ron Rivera.
Heinicke, who spent one season in Carolina in 2018, is looking forward to facing his former teammate.
"It'll be fun. Me and him had a great relationship. He was a lot of fun to be around," Heinicke said. "That place is going to be rocking on Sunday. ... He's very animated and likes to have fun out there, so, yeah, it'll be cool."
In his nine seasons with the Panthers, Newton helped Carolina win four NFC South titles. The quarterback's best season came in 2015, where he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. Newton's efforts that season earned him league MVP honors as well.
Although Heinicke spent just one season sharing the quarterback room with Newton, it didn't take long for him to realize how much the Panthers quarterback is beloved by the Carolina faithful.
"He's like the God of Charlotte. Everyone loves him up there, so it'll be his first home game there. It's going to be loud, and it will be an exciting game," Heinicke said.
While much of Newton's tenure in Carolina was successful, injuries plagued his final two seasons in Carolina, especially in 2019. And, when Matt Rhule was hired in January 2020 to replace Rivera, one of the first big moves he made as the Panthers' head coach was releasing Newton.
Newton went on to play in New England last season, going 7-8 in his 15 starts with the Patriots. He was released this past August after Bill Belichick named rookie Mac Jones the Patriots' Week 1 starter.
However, once Sam Darnold went down with a shoulder injury in Carolina's Week 9 loss to the Patriots, Rhule knew he needed to add a quarterback to the roster. A few days later, Newton was back in Carolina where it all started. On Sunday, he'll likely be Carolina's QB1 once again.
On Wednesday, Rivera said he has no bitterness towards the Panthers organization, even after they fired him in 2019. While that can certainly be the case, Heinicke knows Sunday's game will mean a little bit extra to several members in Washington's organization who followed Rivera over from Carolina.
"We have a bunch of coaches from Carolina, players," he said. "Even one of our GMs is from there, so I'm sure there's a little something to it."
However, although Heinicke did spend time as a member of the Panthers as well, the 28-year-old does not view Sunday's matchup against his former team as a revenge game of any sort.
"I just kind of view them as another team on the schedule," Heinicke said. "Yeah, there's a little something there that you want to kind of go back and win where you used to be, and I think everyone feels that way. I wouldn't say it was anything extra."