CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton is not worried about when he'll return to the football field — he said he's just happy to be alive.
The Panthers quarterback returned to the team's facility Thursday, two days after a two-car accident left him with two fractures in his lower back. He did not practice and his playing status will be reevaluated next week.
"As far as when I'm coming back, who cares? I'm just thankful to have breath in my lungs," Newton said as he stood behind a podium during a seven-minute press conference.
Newton won't play Sunday against Tampa Bay, Derek Anderson will start at quarterback.
That's fine with Newton, who feels blessed to not have been injured worse — or killed.
"I'm on somebody's fantasy (football) league and I think it's the man upstairs," Newton said.
Newton arrived at the stadium Thursday morning and attended some team meetings, watched film and began rehabilitation with the training staff. He said his back remains a little stiff, but otherwise feels great.
Newton said he doesn't think the other driver saw him as he pulled out into traffic onto the one-way street where the quarterback was driving, about a block from the team's stadium.
Newton said the other car clipped the side of his slightly elevated 1998 Dodge truck, causing him to spin and the truck to overturn. Newton said he was conscious for the entire accident, but isn't sure how many times his vehicle flipped.
He said the air bags did deploy in his truck.
"The one thing I remember is that I couldn't talk afterward because I was in such shock," Newton said. "In my book one plus one always equals two. And I'm looking at this truck and this accident and like, dude, one plus one doesn't equal two. I'm like, hey, somebody is supposed to be dead."
Newton said he didn't feel any immediate pain, but as his adrenaline started to wear off his lower back began to tighten.
Newton said he's not sure how long he will be out of action.
He made the decision to come to the stadium to put other people's minds at ease and doesn't want to be a distraction.
"My presence not only helped others but it helped me," Newton said.
Teammates said they were thrilled to see Newton.
Anderson said he gave Newton a "light hug" when he saw him in the training room.
"I think it was an eye-opener for him," Anderson said of the experience.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the best-case scenario is Newton could return to action Dec. 21 against Cleveland, but added it will largely be up to the former No. 1 overall pick's pain threshold.
"We'll take it one week at a time," Rivera said.
The Panthers are half-game out of first place in the NFC South despite a 4-8-1 record after a 41-10 victory over New Orleans last Sunday. They could take over control of the division if they beat the Bucs (2-11) and the Saints and Falcons lose.
Anderson, who is 19-25 as an NFL starter, said he's excited for the opportunity to play in such a big game.
"Obviously the circumstances aren't ideal but I've had a good two days to try get on the same page with everybody," Anderson said.
Anderson said the injury could bring the Panthers closer together as a team as the season winds down. He said it's one of the tightest locker rooms he's been around in during his 10 seasons in the league and the show of love and support for Newton was noticeable.
"Guys genuinely care about his well-being first and foremost," Anderson said. "And those things kind of bring guys together."
Tight end Greg Olsen said Newton was in good spirits as he passed through the locker room.
"I think it's good for him to get back around the guys and get in a normal routine," Olsen said. "It's good to see guys him get back because it means things are getting back to normal."
NOTES: Rivera said DeAngelo Williams will miss his second straight game with a broken hand. Jonathan Stewart, who ran for 155 yards last Sunday against New Orleans, will get the start.
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