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Carolina Panthers Remain Undefeated As NFL Regular Season Winds Down

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Carolina Panthers are 14-0. Now if the magnitude of that fact is lost on you, consider this. There are just two weeks remaining in the National Football League's regular season and if the Panthers win their last two games, they will become only the second team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season. A team that you didn't hear a lot about before the season began could be one for the record books. Espn.com's Jane McManus was at the game yesterday when the Panthers beat the team we still call the New York Giants, even though they play and practice in New Jersey. Jane McManus, welcome to the program.

JANE MCMANUS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: The Panthers led early, squandered that lead, but quarterback Cam Newton led them to an end-of-the-game field goal. How good is Cam Newton?

MCMANUS: I think he's making a bid to be one of the quarterbacks who's going to emerge as the inheritor of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady's legend. Those two quarterbacks are at the end of their career, and Cam Newton appears to be poised to make a bid and say that he is one of the next generation coming up. He has been electric this season, particularly yesterday when he scrambled for 10 yards to get the Panthers, at the very end of the fourth quarter, into field goal range. They kicked a field goal and won that game.

SIEGEL: You say he would be a successor Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He cuts - physically, he cuts a very different figure from those two quarterbacks.

MCMANUS: Well, he's a running quarterback, which means that he's not afraid to scramble. He had exactly 100 yards yesterday, which is impressive for a quarterback. He's six-foot-five. But he's very different also in his demeanor. He seems to have a lot more fun on the field. He's big into smiling. He'll dance in the end zone. And I think that those are some of the things that make him really likable to a lot of NFL fans.

SIEGEL: Truthfully, back in September when you looked ahead to this season, could you imagine Carolina being 14-0 at this point?

MCMANUS: I think at that time, people didn't really know exactly what that team was going to be. Cam Newton has always been a very promising player, but he hasn't really emerged. He's kind of been in this class of quarterbacks who've been very good and very promising but haven't made the leap. And Cam Newton really did take that step forward, giant step forward.

SIEGEL: So here's a question. Say you're the head coach of a team that's 14-0 -15-0, and you're looking at the last game of the season. Do you sit some key players to give them some rest before the playoffs and possibly risk the glory of an undefeated season?

MCMANUS: Thank goodness I'm not a head - an NFL head coach so that I have to make that decision, but I would think it hinges on injuries. If you have a player like Cam Newton who took a hard hit in yesterday's game right before the half - and let's say those injuries are cumulative. That might be a good reason to rest a player. I would worry, though, if you have a healthy player and you're keeping him out. Yes it's safer, but at the same time you take him out of a rhythm and you take him out of, you know, kind of football shape. There's a pounding that your body has to be used to taking in order to play a football game well. I think you want your players at their peak.

SIEGEL: When you look ahead to the playoffs, do the Panthers look especially strong, or do they start playing tougher teams?

MCMANUS: You know, Cam Newton's numbers were great yesterday and he's had some really high MVP games, but he hasn't always had the same kind of numbers that some of the, you know, the Tom Bradys and the Peyton Mannings have had during the regular season. So I think that there's this perception that they possibly could be picked off depending, you know, on how they finish the season. But at the same time, I think you see a game like yesterday - this team is only getting better, and I think they're going into the playoffs on a high note depending on what happens again in the next two games.

SIEGEL: Jane McManus, who covers the NFL for espn.com. Thank you for talking with us, Jane.

MCMANUS: Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.