Kyle Allen gets extended audition while insisting 'nothing has changed'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It felt different when Kyle Allen stepped to the podium on Wednesday as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers and not the player holding down the position while Cam Newton was out injured.

There were more reporters and more questions about his abilities and how he could help the Panthers (5-3) reach the playoffs, beginning with Sunday’s showdown at Green Bay.

With Newton on injured reserve for the rest of the regular season, Allen had clarity to his situation and his unique opportunity.

But it wasn’t different, at least to Allen.

“Nothing has changed,” he said. “You guys don’t like to believe me, but I prepare the same way each week. ... I was never looking over my shoulder. Honestly.

“Before [Newton] went on IR, my job was to get ready to play every week, and then when somebody told me it was not my turn to play anymore, I would stop playing. It’s still the same thing.”

What has changed now that Newton won’t be back this season is that for the Panthers to get to the playoffs, Allen will have to lead them. If he does that, he’ll make it hard for the Panthers to bring back a banged-up, 30-year-old Newton for the final year of his contract.

If he does that, he’ll be in line for a increase in his $495,000 salary.

Allen insists he isn’t looking ahead with this opportunity because he understands it won’t mean anything if he doesn’t perform.

“It just means I’ve got at least eight games to play,” Allen said. “I knew when I got my opportunity to play in this league, I had to take advantage of it. Now I just have more opportunities afforded to me the rest of the season.”

Can Allen lead Carolina to the playoffs? Sunday’s game against the Packers (7-2) could determine a lot.

Allen is 5-1 as a starter this season and 6-1 going back to last season. But in what was considered his first “big” test two weeks ago at undefeated San Francisco, Allen threw three interceptions in a 51-13 loss.

That he bounced back with a solid performance in a 30-20 victory against the Tennessee Titans was a good sign. However, to get to the playoffs in what appears to be a loaded NFC, the Panthers will have to beat some of the best teams in the league.

They have two games against NFC South-leading New Orleans and one each against Seattle and Indianapolis in the final eight games.

“For me, going into every game is kind of special,” Allen said. “I’m still a young player in this league, so being able to play against teams I’ve never played before is cool no matter what.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on. But as I tell you guys every week, you can get caught up in the hype and really what it comes down to is the simple stuff and execution is real important.”

Few games will be as cool for Allen as Sunday’s. His father’s family is from Milwaukee. He grew up a Packers fan even though he never attended a game at Lambeau Field.

He idolized Packers quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

“It’s exciting, man,” Allen said.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera is excited for Allen. He believes the clarity surrounding Newton’s situation now will help.

Allen’s teammates are excited for him, too.

“You can tell his demeanor is a little bit different,” Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner said. “His confidence is up, which is a great thing. He wants to win.”

And the Panthers believe they can win with Allen, the running of Christian McCaffrey and a defense that leads the league in sacks.

“We trust in [No.] 7,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “It’s an unfortunate situation for Cam. He’s a helluva player, but life goes on. He knows that. We know that. Seven is the guy now. We have complete faith in him.”