Dealing with a shoulder issue, the former MVP quarterback looked like a shell of himself in Monday night's 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints, tossing careening passes, short flutterers and nosediving dirt-seekers. At this point it appears Newton is throwing a 20-pound bowling ball every time he drops back.
The Panthers signal-caller finished the night with his worst statistical game of the season in nearly every category: Completion percentage, 55.2; passing yards per attempt, 4.5; passing yards, 131; passer rating, 52.5.
At halftime, Newton had four more passing yards (54) than running back Christian McCaffrey earned on one play (50). The QB also generated a back-breaking INT, while the RB tossed the Panthers only TD of the day. It took Newton until under the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter to surpass the 100-yard passing mark.
According to Next Gen Stats, Newton didn't attempt a single pass of more 20-plus air-yards. Four attempts out of 29 traveled 10-plus air-yards, one of which was completed to his own team.
Newton continues to say the pain in his shoulder isn't affecting his play. Perhaps it's not the pain, but something is wrong with the shoulder. The man who used to zing lasers is now tossing flickering prayers into the dirt.
Newton began sitting out of practice around Week 8 due to lingering soreness in his shoulder, an issue he says likely stems from shoulder surgery last offseason. First described simply as maintenance days, the issue has been exacerbated in recent weeks as the Panthers have lost six straight games to fall to 6-8, and all but eliminated from playoff contention.
Anyone with one good eyeball can see that Newton's shoulder struggles have worsened by the week. A man whose biggest problem in the past was sailing passes high can barely hit a receiver above the waist.
Newton was asked after Monday's loss whether he would consider sitting out the final two games.
"That's not on me," he said. "My job is to do the things that I can control and for me at this particular point in time, I don't have an answer for you."
It was on Newton in 2016 when he didn't want to be shut down with a dinged-up shoulder. And it was on him again in 2017 as he rushed to get back on the field after shoulder surgery.
Newton's response this time is one of a player that knows he's not right but can't find the answer to his on-field struggles.
Take a look at his responses to questions about his shoulder Monday night:
Q: How ready are you to return to your normal routine?
*Newton: I wish I could tell you. I think the frustration comes when you do any and everything to make sure your body is at peak performance. From cardio, treatment, practice, film, cardio, treatment, practice, film. It's been repetition. I think it's disheartening to me because there's so much invested time put in. I don't want to play the "woe is me" game, but I have to be better. That's what's so frustrating. When you want it so bad and you push. You put so much on your plate and you know it doesn't come down to you, but at the end of the day you just have to uphold your end of the bargain. When certain things don't happen, that's when frustration comes. That's why I'm frustrated. It's not necessarily about practice, which it is to a degree, but when you've been doing something over a certain time you kind of get in a regimen of when you're supposed to do certain things. Obviously my arm hasn't allowed me to do a lot of practice. I've been on a pitch count for a long time, but at the end of the day it is what it is. That's not a scape goat. That's not something that I want people to bail me out on. It's just something that is reality. *
Q: What does your shoulder feel like after a game?
For people who...labrum, rotator cuff, just shoulder soreness. I wish I could say what the injury is because I don't really know what it is either. No matter how much you push, no matter how much you ice, the anti-inflammatory you take. Trust me, I've done it. Acupuncture, massages. There's not a night that goes by without me getting some type of work done on my arm. You just don't have the strength. From the range of motion, you work on the range of motion then come game time and you never know how the game can play out. Of course you try to stay under 25-30 throws, but if you surpass that or you get hit on it or you have to run or you get tackled and fall on your shoulder, certain things happen. That's the game of football. As far as stiffness, just muscle tension, there's a lot going on. At the end of the day it's not something that hasn't got worse over the weeks or hasn't got better over the weeks. It's just been the same. **
Q: Is the pain affecting how you throw the ball?
*I wouldn't say so, no. I think the thing is when you talk to the different people who can help you with it, there is no magical surgery. It's just time. I've been hearing that since the injury happened, but when you look around the league and you see guys doing certain things that you know you're capable of doing, whatever it is. I feel as if this team has everything that it needs to go to the next level. Even with me and the position that I am in, it still didn't come down to my arm tonight. It still comes down to execution. You can't praise the defense enough. Those guys battled, gave us opportunities, gave us opportunities and more opportunities. It's just on us to sustain drives and take the tension and pressure off those. *
The verbosity in this instance speaks volumes. These are not short clipped answers of a player after a loss wanting to move on. Yes, Cam is notably loquacious when he wants to be, but generally on his own terms. This is a man searching for answers. He can't find any. And that is the most frustrating of all.
It's not in the nature of a professional athlete to admit his mortality, to confess he doesn't have the key to every test. We, the public, have steeled them into believing if they can't overcome every obstacle, they are a failure. If they don't live up to our outsized dreams at every stage they are a bust.
And so, it's not surprising Newton is visibly frustrated he can't perform in his normal fashion.
The man who fancies himself a Superman character is battling kryptonite in his shoulder that is decaying his season. The Panthers need to ensure it doesn't dilute another year.
After the game Ron Rivera brushed aside the question of sitting Newton the final two games.
"No. What we are going to do is see how the week goes right now," he said when asked if he'd consider sitting Newton. "Again, we will continue to evaluate and see what the doctors have to say. But, the route has been the same and will continue.
If Rivera didn't want to shut down his starting quarterback immediately after the game, that's understandable. However, once he re-watches the loss, he should make the easy decision.
Yes, Rivera is fighting for his job, but what would that gig become if he keeps it only to watch his franchise quarterback further disabled moving forward? The best thing Rivera could do to prove he's worthy of retaining his job is being competitive in the final two weeks with a backup quarterback.
If the only thing to help Newton is rest, he should get it. Not starting after the season in two weeks. Now.