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Charlotte, N.C. — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton suggested for the first time Wednesday race might play a factor in why he’s become a lightning rod for public criticism.

“I’m an African-American quarterback that scares people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to,” said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton.

The No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft out of Auburn, Newton has his share of detractors who either don’t like how he plays, his celebrations or his abundance of self-confidence.

Newton, a leading league MVP candidate who is putting up record-breaking numbers, said he learned a long time ago that he can’t please everyone, and needs to be true to his personality.

“People are going to judge, and have opinions on things I don’t have control over,” Newton said.

Newton threw for 35 touchdowns and ran for 10 this season. He has helped lead the Panthers (17-1) to their first Super Bowl since 2003. Carolina plays the AFC champion Broncos on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

Newton acknowledged being leery of talking about how others may perceive him.

“I think it’s a trick question,” Newton said. “If I answer it truthfully it’s going to be ‘Aw, he’s this or that.’ But I will say it anyway.

“I don’t think people have seen what I am or what I’m trying to do.”

Extra points

Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan says he would prefer to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal and the team has more than a month to release Robert Griffin III without his contract counting against the salary cap.

McCloughan said the Redskins want to keep Cousins (Michigan State), who can leave via free agency.

... Hall of Fame coach Don Shula plans to attend the Super Bowl, where he’ll root for his son, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

... Packers coach Mike McCarthy pulled out of his Pro Bowl coaching assignment, saying doctors have advised him not to travel as he battles a stomach illness.

The Packers said associate head coach Winston Moss will handle head-coaching responsibilities at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu this week, including Sunday’s game.

... Referee Clete Blakeman will work his first Super Bowl. He refereed Green Bay-Arizona in the divisional round, when he had to redo the coin toss for overtime when the coin didn’t flip.

... The 49ers hired former Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil for the same job.

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