CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton doesn’t like being compared to Colin Kaepernick.
“Two different players,” Newton said.
Yet the Panthers’ third-year quarterback certainly understands the parallels with his 49ers counterpart. They both entered the NFL in 2011. They’re both big, strong-armed guys who can shred a secondary with their arms and terrorize a front seven with their feet.
“Being a big guy, being fast and being agile and having the art of throwing like only God has blessed a few people with — and Kaepernick has it (too),” Newton said.
Newton and Kaepernick go head-to-head Sunday with a trip to the NFC championship game on the line.
It’s their second meeting this season.
Carolina beat San Francisco 10-9 in a defensive struggle Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park, a game in which neither quarterback played particularly well.
Both are out to change that in the divisional playoffs.
“We didn’t execute the way we should have and I didn’t play well,” Kaepernick said the first game, where he was limited to 91 yards passing and 16 yards rushing and sacked six times.
Newton and Kaepernick shared a room at the scouting combine in Indianapolis leading up the 2011 NFL draft.
Both were kept busy by the onslaught of interview requests from teams and barely had a chance to interact. A few months later, Newton was drafted first overall by the Panthers, while Kaepernick fell to the 49ers in the second round and was selected 36th overall.
Kaepernick was the first to get his team to the Super Bowl, leading the 49ers there last year in his first season as a starter before ultimately losing to the Baltimore Ravens.
Newton started right away in Carolina, but was just 13-19 in his first two seasons.
However, after a 1-3 start the Panthers have turned things around winning 11 of their last 12 games to capture the NFC South and secure a first-round bye.
Along the way, Newton threw a career-high 24 touchdown passes and was selected to the Pro Bowl ahead of Kaepernick.
But all of that means little to Newton.
“I feel as if I haven’t achieved anything worth mentioning yet,” Newton said.
In Newton’s eyes there’s only one goal at the end of this season: bringing home Carolina’s first Super Bowl.
“Nothing is worth mentioning unless we have something that we can all share with each other for years and years to come,” Newton said.
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton’s maturity this season has been evident with his ability to handle pressure on and off the field.
“We’re seeing a guy that has grown the last three seasons,” Rivera said. “He’s done a lot of good things. He’s developed a lot of who he is in terms of our offense. He’s also learned a lot of things in helping him cope and deal with the media and his public image. Those are the things you need to do as a football player.”
Newton jokingly compared his growth over the past three seasons to getting a software update on a Smartphone.
He said all people need one eventually.
“When you go to the general settings and hit update, it just updates the whole software,” Newton said. “When I hit software update, I just hit the install button. I don’t hit cancel or remind me tomorrow. I hit install and hopefully that will take care of me.”
Newton version 3.0 is doing just fine.
But he knows to get where he wants to go he has to get by Kaepernick and the 49ers.
“I’m not preparing for Colin Kaepernick,” Newton said. “What he does on Sunday will not make any difference to me — other than if he does score I will have to respond. And if I score he will have to respond.”
Rivera said it should be a great matchup between two quarterbacks with similar qualities.
“People talk about this is the future of quarterbacking and yet you turn around and see Johnny Manziel is coming out,” Rivera said. “So they’re going to come in all shapes and sizes. Your quarterback, his skill set has got to fit what you do offensively.
NOTES — Everyone practiced for the Panthers on Wednesday, although wide receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Colin Cole were listed as limited.