LANDOVER, Md. — What a week for Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.
There was a benching during a 24-point loss. Criticism from a former teammate. Biting Twitter barbs from an opposing receiver.
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What better way to cap it all off than a matchup for his Redskins (2-2) on Sunday against Cam Newton and the visiting Carolina Panthers (3-1), the club that abruptly parted with Norman about 2½ years ago.
"Old friends. They're coming to town, and I get to see them and go at each other. They know how I am. Trust me. I know how they are. So it's going to be quite an exciting time," Norman said. "I'm looking forward to them. I know (Newton's) got something special cooked up for us."
Norman was coming off an All-Pro season and a Super Bowl appearance when the Panthers put the franchise tag on him in March 2016, a move many figured was a precursor to a long-term deal. Fast-forward six weeks, though, and Carolina rescinded the tag offer, allowing Norman to become an unrestricted free agent.
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Within a couple of days, he signed a $75 million, five-year contract with Washington. For whatever the reason - and there are various theories out there - things have not gone all that well for Norman, who turns 31 in December and is currently up to 19 games in a row without an interception.
The downswing culminated in Washington coach Jay Gruden's decision to play a rookie instead of Norman coming out of halftime during a 43-19 loss at New Orleans on Monday night.
Then came all sorts of theories about what might be wrong with Norman, from his age (courtesy of Saints receiver Michael Thomas) to his interest in becoming a celebrity (brought up by ex-Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall) to the shift from Carolina's zone coverage to Washington's man-to-man principles (referenced by Panthers coach Ron Rivera).
Newton, a friend who participates in Norman's charity volleyball tournament, maintains that QBs still need to be wary of the guy.
"He's not a person who hesitates to take chances, and that's his gift and his curse," Newton said. "I still go into each and every game pointing out who the impact players are on every defense, and he's definitely one of those players."
Here are some things to know about the Panthers and Redskins:
COUNT ON CAM
A Redskins defense that had zero answers against Drew Brees now goes up against Newton, who is having a so-so season thus far but always comes up big against Washington. The 2015 NFL MVP is 4-0 against the Redskins, with nine TDs and zero INTs, a passer of rating of 115.4 and two rushing scores. "Cam is a beast, man. He can do it all. He can pass. He can run it. He's an extra running back when he's back there," Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They've got a long list of good playmakers, man. So we've got our hands full."
Defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne played together at Alabama, were first-round draft picks the past two years, and account for nearly half of Washington's sacks this season. "They are two guys that I never have to worry about: 'Hey, hustle. Hey, run to the ball.' These guys are always playing hard, playing fast, playing physical," Gruden said, "and you can build around those two cats for a long time."
Panthers' Newton: Olsen's return means 'the band is back'
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is ecstatic to have Greg Olsen back on the football field.
And he wants Olsen to remain on the field, so much that Newton said he asked his spiritual grandmother Hattie-Lou Newton to pray for the tight end's continued health.
"That would be great," Olsen said with a laugh, "I can use all of the help I can get."
The 33-year-old Olsen practiced Thursday and is expected to return to action Sunday against the Redskins after missing three games with a broken foot.
Olsen was one of the most durable players in the NFL during his first 10 seasons, never missing a game due to injury while playing in 158 consecutive games. But he's missed 12 of the last 18 games since first fracturing his right foot in Week 2 of last season. He re-broke the same bone in Carolina's season opener against the Cowboys and hasn't played since.
That has left the three-time Pro Bowl selection frustrated and eager to get back on the field - although not enough to rush back from the injury.
"I wouldn't be out there if I didn't think I could help the team," Olsen said. "Me being out there and not being able to move, that doesn't do us any good. This isn't about me just desperately wanting to play. I want to play and I expect to play like I am accustomed to."
Coach Ron Rivera said barring any setbacks before Sunday there won't be any restrictions on Olsen's playing time.
Rivera said Olsen moved around well Thursday, and participated fully in practice. Like his teammates, Olsen hasn't been able to go full speed yet this week because heavy rains the past two days in the Charlotte area have caused the fields to be wet and soggy.
Olsen brings yet another option in the passing game for Newton, who just got second-year wide receiver Curtis Samuel back from a minor heart procedure last week.
"The band is back," Newton said with a wide smile.
Nobody knows what Olsen means to the Panthers more than Newton.
Olsen has always been his favorite target. He became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-16.
"He can't (get injured) no more," Newton said. "... His play-making ability on the field is just second to none. Having Greg back, keeping him healthy along with the talent that we already have, it presents a lot of problems for the opposing team."
Newton said Olsen also helps him call out plays in the huddle, something that fans don't always see.
The eighth-year quarterback said many calls in the NFL these days are simply too long and contain too much verbiage, and suggested some need to be simplified one-word phrases like "Panther," or even "Tepper" or "Rivera," referring to the surnames of the team's owner and head coach.
"Greg is a very intellectual person that helps me out with play-calling," Newton said. "I call him 'the dictator' in the huddle because I really have problems with calling plays - even in year eight. And he kind of helps me."
Newton went on to say "calling a play shouldn't be a paragraph. ... I will be in the huddle and I'm already tired and I don't have time to be saying this, that and the third. (It should be) ready, ready break. You only get so much time."
Olsen downplayed Newton's comments Thursday, saying the quarterback "exaggerated a little bit" in how much he helps him.
"Cam has it under control," Olsen said. "... Sometimes in the heat of the battle I will help piece some things together. But I think Cam was just being generous."
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis arrived at work bright and early Monday morning to some unexpected fanfare after serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs.
He was greeted by smiling teammates Luke Kuechly and Mike Adams, who stood at the front door to the team's stadium holding it open for him. Coach Ron Rivera wore a new black t-shirt with a blue silhouette of Davis celebrating a big play that read "I'M BACK" during his news conference. Several other coaches and players strolled through the locker room wearing the t-shirt as well in support of Davis.
Davis' return, combined with the possible return of tight end Greg Olsen from a broken foot this week and the team's dramatic 33-31 win Sunday over the New York Giants - Graham Gano booted a 63-yard field goal through the uprights with 1 second remaining allowing the Panthers to improve to 3-1 - had the locker room abuzz on Monday.
"We got our leader back," Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson said of Davis, Carolina's all-time leading tackler.
Rivera said as long as the 35-year-old Davis is in good football condition, he will start his 147th career regular season game this Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Davis told teammates he's been channeling his energy the past month into working out and getting in the best shape of his life - which naturally led to some good-natured banter in the locker room.
"Yeah, he swore he had a six-pack, (but) he has about a two-pack," joked cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Munnerlyn said that Davis, who he views as his older brother, greeted him Monday by grabbing him tightly around the shoulders. He had to remind Davis he'd just played a football game on Sunday and was still sore.
"I know he has a lot of built-up aggression in him right now," Munnerlyn said with a laugh. "The Washington Redskins can get ready because I know that first week back when somebody touches the ball he's going to want to go full throttle."
Rivera said he thought about giving the players a day off on what is known as "victory Monday," but decided against it because he didn't want Davis to have to wait until Wednesday to reunite with his teammates.
"If he could have, he would have been here at the stadium at 12:01 a.m. (when his suspension was lifted), but unfortunately he would have been here by himself," Rivera said.
Along with welcoming him back, it was clear the Panthers were also trying to cheer Davis up. He announced on Twitter last week that his father had died.
"I think being around the guys will be a good getaway for him," Munnerlyn said.
Davis posted a video on his Twitter in April acknowledging he tested positive for an estrogen blocker but said it was completely unintentional and "in no way would I ever do anything to cheat this game." The 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner said he has been taking the same supplements for the last seven or eight years and never had any issues before.
Davis didn't talk to reporters Monday, saying he'd prefer to wait until later in the week as is normally his routine.
The Panthers have clearly missed Davis' energy and knack for making big plays. The Carolina defense squandered an 11-point fourth quarter lead on Sunday to Eli Manning and the Giants, only to get bailed out by Gano's field goal.
"We missed Thomas everywhere, on the practice field, in the locker room," Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. "When he's removed from the building you feel the impact, you feel the void. You don't replace Thomas Davis."
Rivera called Davis a "special locker room guy."
Olsen's potential return is good news for Carolina's offense.
He led the team in yards receiving for three straight seasons from 2014-16, but has been plagued by a broken bone in his foot the past two seasons causing him to miss a combined 12 games. He re-broke his foot in the team's Sept. 9 season opener, but is expected to practice fully on Wednesday and could play against the Redskins.
"As long as (the doctors) are happy with how it is healing, a lot of it will be based on how I feel," Olsen said. "That's where we are right now. ... How I feel will guide what I can and can't do."
CAROLINA (3-1) at WASHINGTON (2-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE - Redskins by 2
RECORD VS. SPREAD - Panthers 2-2, Redskins 2-2
SERIES RECORD - Redskins lead 7-6
LAST MEETING - Panthers beat Redskins 26-15, Dec. 19, 2016
LAST WEEK - Panthers beat Giants 33-31; Redskins lost to Saints 43-19
AP PRO32 RANKING - Panthers No. 6, Redskins No. 18
PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (19), RUSH (1), PASS (25)
PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (20), RUSH (8T), PASS (26)
REDSKINS OFFENSE - OVERALL (21), RUSH (13T), PASS (20)
REDSKINS DEFENSE - OVERALL (5), RUSH (6), PASS (7)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES - Panthers have won five in row against Redskins. ... Carolina's Cam Newton has run for 57 TDs in career, most by QB in NFL history. ... RB Christian McCaffrey averaging league-best 130.3 yards from scrimmage. ... TE Greg Olsen could return to action after breaking foot in season opener. ... K Graham Gano won last week's game with 63-yard field goal with 1 second remaining. Gano hasn't missed kick this season (7 for 7 on field goals, 11 for 11 on PATs). ... LB Thomas Davis is back after serving four-game suspension for violating league's policy on performance enhancers. ... DE Mario Addison has six sacks in his past seven road games. ... S Mike Adams coming off two-pick game, his fourth multi-interception game since 2014, tied for most in NFL in that span. ... Only eight teams are averaging fewer points than 20.8 per game put up by Washington this season. ... Redskins QB Alex Smith's passer rating of 92.9 is tied for 19th among QBs with at least 80 attempts this season. ... No Washington WR has more than 13 receptions. RB Chris Thompson leads team with 26 catches. TE Jordan Reed ranks second with 15. ... Thompson is one of three NFL RBs with at least 150 catches and 10 TD receptions since 2014. ... WR Jamison Crowder has four TD catches in past five home games. ... Rookie DL Daron Payne had forced fumble, sack last week. ... Fantasy tip: Even if Carolina's offense has been so-so, especially when passing, Newton always seems to fare well against Redskins, whose secondary looked terrible in Monday night's loss to New Orleans. Newton is 4-0 with nine TDs and zero INTs for 115.4 passer rating vs. Washington, along with two rushing scores.
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