This wasn’t Superman. This wasn’t even Clark Kent, who after all is just Superman with a pair of glasses and a business suit.
This was Cam Newton looking like a lost and tentative quarterback – a quarterback who sometimes held the ball too long, sometimes overthrew it, sometimes underthrew it and never could get his offense into the end zone in Carolina’s disheartening 16-12 home loss to Seattle on Sunday.
Newton was at his most decisive 30 minutes after the game, when he declared who was most at fault for the loss that dropped the Panthers to 1-4:
“Cameron Newton didn’t play good football today,” he said.
Man, was that the truth. The Panthers’ only score was a defensive touchdown. Seattle took a safety on purpose late in the game. So the offense, in reality, netted just three of the Panthers’ 12 points.
After three quarters, Newton was 5-for-20 for 55 yards. He finally completed some throws in the fourth quarter, but he failed to generate any points out of them.
“I’ve got to play better,” Newton said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
On the biggest play of the game, a fourth-and-goal from the Seattle 1 with just under 4 minutes left and the Panthers trailing 16-10, Newton saw tight end Ben Hartsock open in the end zone. Then he threw Hartsock a one-hop grounder – needing to travel about 15 yards, the ball barely made it 10 before hitting the grass. It was such a bad throw that the Panthers fans left gave it a thorough round of boos, and they generally avoid booing Newton at all costs.
“I just failed to throw it to him, get him an accurate throw, so that comes down on me,” Newton said. “I pride myself on being very prepared and being able to do things when my number is called. My number was called right there and I didn’t get the job done. I think that’s shame on me.”
The Panthers coaches called for a run-pass option on the fourth-down play. They took out all their wide receivers to line up as if they were going to run the ball from the 1, then faked the handoff and had Newton roll right.
When questioned about the play call later, Rivera defended it. “The run-pass option worked in our favor,” he said. “We had a guy wide open. And unfortunately we just didn’t get it done.”
Newton looked like he tried to guide the ball to Hartsock. And to be fair he was throwing back left while running right. And his primary receiver was double-covered. And the Seahawks are the NFL’s No. 2 defense. So it was all a bit chaotic.
But still – that’s the sort of play we’re used to seeing Newton make. Those are the sorts of plays the Panthers drafted Newton No. 1 and pay him very well to make. And those are the kinds of plays that – so far this season – No. 1 just isn’t making often enough.
Instead, Newton is doing too many things like fumbling away a game-clinching first down against Atlanta, or throwing three interceptions vs. the New York Giants. Or this.
To his credit, Newton fell on his sword afterward. “To a degree, I’m kind of embarrassed,” he said. “But things are going to get better. The Bible says God won’t put more on a person than a person can bear so I’m going to learn from this. I’m humbled by this. I’m going to come back and get better.”
If Newton had made the Madden 13 cover, we would now be talking about the Madden cover jinx. But he didn’t. So we are left with either the “sophomore slump” theory or the “league has caught up to the Panthers offense” theory or whatever other theory we would like to concoct.
The bottom line is the Panthers have to win games in which they only allow 16 points. That’s happened twice this season now, and the offense has played so poorly it has lost both times.
“We want to win,” Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said. “We really do. We think we have the guys in here that can win but it’s not working out. It’s not happening. … It’s a snowball effect, and the ball is getting pretty big at the end of the hill.”
So what do the Panthers do next? Benching Newton is certainly not the answer. He remains the foundation that the team should be built upon.
But Newton somehow has to regain his consistency and his creativity. He has a bye week coming to try and figure something out. And the Panthers better hope he does and help him do it.
For Newton looked lost in the wilderness Sunday. And until he finds himself, the Panthers aren’t going to win another game.