Newton: Upbeat Panthers not losing sight of NFC South title

Quarterback Cam Newton (1,794 yards passing, 10 total TDs) has had to learn many new names and faces with this year's Panthers, who have gone 1-5-1 since a 2-0 start to the 2014 campaign.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers are coming off an embarrassing, nationally televised loss to the New Orleans Saints and are a woeful 1-5-1 in their last six games.

However, all is not lost — at least according to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

"It’s perception and reality," Newton said during his regular Wednesday press conference. "The perception is that we haven’t been playing our best football, but the reality is that we’re right in the thick of things. We’re not out.

"The NFL season is a long season, but it can go south and it can go north, however your mental state is. And for this team, I really don’t see a lot of guys moping around and having this ‘woe-is-me’ attitude."

Newton’s right in that regard. At 3-5-1, Carolina has time to get on a hot streak and ultimately win the NFC South Division.

After all, there’s not a team within the division that has a winning record; thus, a team with eight — or even seven wins — could end up winning the South crown.

Let’s also consider the seven remaining games on the Panthers’ schedule: Only Cleveland and Philadelphia, whom Carolina plays on Monday night, have winning records.

Meanwhile, New Orleans (4-4) plays its next four games against San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. There’s also a home game left against Carolina and a road trip to Chicago.

"We’re not trying to win our next seven games," Newton said. "We’re trying to win our next first, if that makes sense. For me and a lot of players, we know that the schedule favors a lot of things for us, but we’ve got to take the binoculars off and just put on the reality of what’s in front of us right now, and make the most of that opportunity, and that’s on Monday night."

Finishing strong should be nothing new to Newton, who has guided the Panthers to hot November/December runs over the previous three seasons (2011-13).

In his rookie campaign, Carolina started 2-8 and finished 6-10. Year 2 saw the Panthers start 2-8 once again, before ending up at 7-9. Last season, Carolina was 1-3 before taking 11 of the final 12 regular-season outings (12-4 record).

That aside, Newton understands that any kind of positive run begins with the club playing better together.

"We’re not playing great team ball," he said. "What I mean is when the offense is putting up points, the defense is not holding their own. When the defense gives us unbelievable field position, the offense somehow stalls out. …

"I think we’re at that point right now where everybody understands what’s at stake. We understand that this is a must-win and every week is a must-win."

Follow Brett Jensen on Twitter at @BrettJensenFOX.