As the final seconds ticked away and a second straight loss to begin the season became a reality, Cam Newton wrapped a towel atop his head and tucked it into his shoulder pads.
There was no disguising the performance, but Newton most certainly walked away from the game hardly resembling his former self.
Newton has grown tired of the media inquiring about the strength of his arm following shoulder surgery. He should likely rest up, because the questions are going to keep coming after a hard-to-watch 20-14 loss on Thursday against the Buccaneers. There will also be quandaries about his mobility, his accuracy and, plain and simple, his overall game going forward.
"I feel OK," Newton said after a defeat in which the Panthers couldn't find the end zone. "You're not going to hear no type of reasons why tonight didn't go as planned. I have to be better, no matter what physical condition I'm in, no matter what foot, shoulder, I didn't get the job done tonight. And it's frustrating, I wish I could say something other than that, but that's the facts. I'm an extremely brutally honest person with people and I'm extremely brutally honest with myself. It's time for me to look myself in the mirror and do some real soul searching, because I had opportunities tonight and I didn't get it done."
Newton threw for more than 300 yards, but it did little to camouflage a night in which he was far removed from the superman who once led the Panthers with his arm and legs. His passes were errant, his feet were never a factor and when the game was on the line, he was lined up wide.
On this humid and dismal Thursday evening in Charlotte, Newton completed 25 of 51 passes for 333 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions (though he had one negated by a penalty) and a lost fumble. It was the first time since the final game of 2017 in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes. He was also sacked three times.
On the ground, he had but two carries for zero yards.
"I thought he had his moments," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said following the game, refusing to cast a negative hue upon the quarterback that has led the franchise to its finest seasons. "And again, we'll get a chance to evaluate it, break it down once we look at the tape."
The tape will show Newton sailing balls high and nowhere near open receivers and skipping them short.
"There's no issue with his shoulder," Rivera stated emphatically. "He threw the deep ball today, threw it a couple of times."
According to Next Gen Stats, Newton threw passes of 20-plus air yards on seven occasions, but completed just two (40-plus gains to Greg Olsen and Curtis Samuel). Perhaps those were the moments Rivera was referencing.
Carolina is now 0-2 and has lost eight in a row with Newton under center.
"We're past due," Newton said. "All fingers are just pointing back to me specifically and the offense.
"I haven't tasted a win in so long."
Heading into the final drive, Newton was 19-of-41 for 272 yards with a 68.3 rating, but the Panthers still had a shot as the Luke Kuechly-led defense still had them in the game.
The Panthers' bid for victory ended when Christian McCaffrey was forced out of bounds by Vernon Hargreaves III on fourth-and-1 following a direct-snap fake-reverse. Newton was lined up on the right side off tackle. Thus, the ball wasn't even in Newton's hands when the game was on the line. Perhaps that was the most symbolic play of the Panthers' loss and Newton's struggles.
Rivera said the play-call had nothing to do with Newton's performance over the night, nor his shoulder or foot (which was injured in the preseason).
"We felt good about the play and it didn't work," Rivera said.
Nothing was working for the Panthers' offense on Thursday and, as it's always been, that starts and ends with No. 1.
"A lack of execution offensively," Newton answered when asked to pinpoint the reasons for the loss. "I think, through my lens, it's hard to look defensive guys in the eyes after a game like this. Offensively, we didn't hold up our end of the bargain."