Josh Norman's revenge against the Carolina Panthers was spoiled as his Washington Redskins fell 26-15 at home on Monday night. The Pro Bowl cornerback made it known that he was looking forward to squaring off with the team that unceremoniously rescinded the franchise tag from him in the offseason. Unfortunately for Norman, Cam Newton turned in a vintage performance reminiscent of the games he linked together at the end of 2015 en route to earning league MVP honors.
While Newton's team got the better of Washington, it wasn't as if Norman lost the duel, as the talking heads will surely try to spin it. If there is anyone who knows what kind of game-changer Norman can be, it's the quarterback who practiced against him for years in Carolina. Newton's approach largely avoided throwing into his old mate's coverage, focusing on other areas of the Redskins' defense.
Cam Newton only targeted a receiver in Norman's coverage on five of his 37 pass attempts. The cornerback gave up 32 yards on three catches, including a pair of first downs, but only allowed a 78.8 passer rating.
A deep-ball pass deflection in the third quarter that easily could have been intercepted by Norman was a reminder of just how treacherous it can be to throw against the All-Pro cornerback. Ted Ginn had a slight step on Norman with 1.95 yards of separation as he crossed Washington's opposing 10-yard line. Yet, by the time the two had reached the end zone, Norman had closed on the receiver and gained inside leverage, narrowing the gap to just 1.06 yards of separation. The pass hit Norman in the hands but he just missed securing the interception.
One of the mismatches that Newton looked to exploit was Ginn as a deep threat. Despite having a largely quiet first half of the season, Ginn has re-emerged as the main wide receiver in the Panthers' offense. His deep-game prowess has been a huge factor in the last five weeks.
Much has been made of Newton's lackluster completion percentage over the last month, which checked in under 40 percent. That's mostly been due to a lack of short-area options, as Newton's deep passing was dangerous over that stretch. From Weeks 11 to 15 he threw four touchdowns that traveled 20-plus yards in the air and posted a 118.8 passer rating.
The football world spent much of the offseason arguing whether Kelvin Benjamin would return to seize the No. 1 receiver duty or Devin Funchess would usurp it. The answer over the course of the season has been neither. The only steady factor in the waning positions of the season has been the streaky ways of Ginn as a deep threat. His 12.8 air yards per target in the first 10 weeks of the season ballooned to 16.8 over the last five.
On this night, Newton spent much more time picking on the intermediate and short areas of the field, rather than hurling the deep ball. His touchdown to Ginn was his only completion on a pass that traveled 20 or more air yards. He only threw two other such passes, both of which went to Ginn and one being the near-pick by Norman -- and each fell incomplete. Newton's willingness to pick and choose his spots might have been due in part to his desire to wisely avoid picking on his former teammate.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers faithful got to see a glimpse into what has long seemed like the confusing logic behind general manager Dave Gettleman's decision to let Norman leave. Carolina got solid play from its pair of rookie cornerbacks, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Neither player allowed a touchdown against the Redskins and played well in coverage.
Of course, the product hasn't always been quite that good for the Panthers' secondary in 2016, outside of Bradberry who has shown flashes of an emerging star in every game he has played. Yet, finding gems like these two is what gave Gettleman the confidence to move on from the cornerback who thrusted himself into the national spotlight in 2015. It's no knock to Norman, and perhaps that still might have been the wrong move, but Bradberry and Worley were up to the task against one of the NFL's high-flying passing offenses Monday.
Norman is a great player, and it's completely fair to wonder if parts of this lost Panthers season would have gone differently had he been with the team. Nothing about his play Monday questions that idea. However, the revenge he seemed to deeply desire on the team that spurned him was rejected by Newton. Despite what will be the lack of a happy ending for Newton and the Panthers this season at least he didn't allow Norman to pile on more insults.