- Cam Newton has struggled through the first two games of the season, unable to hit receivers downfield or in stride and unwilling to run the ball.
- After two losses to open the season, some in the NFL wonder how healthy Newton’s shoulder and foot are and if his athleticism is already on the decline.
- Some are hopeful that Newton is going through an adjustment period after re-working his throwing mechanics in the offseason.
- It’s unclear when and if he’ll look like the Newton of old.
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The first two games of the 2019 NFL season have raised alarm bells that something is wrong with Cam Newton.
On Thursday, Newton had one of the worst games of his career in a 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton completed just 24-of-50 passes for 324 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, though there were several close calls. Furthermore, Newton often struggled to hit receivers downfield, or threw the ball behind them, causing dropped passes or plays that didn’t result in any yardage after the catch.
The Panthers also looked hesitant to use Newton as a runner. He had just two rush attempts for zero yards. On the game’s deciding play, the Panthers chose to use Christian McCaffrey on 4th-and-2 to run into the end zone instead of Newton. McCaffrey was pushed out of bounds before he could score the game-winning touchdown.
It was just the sixth game of Newton’s career in which he completed less than 50% of his passes and didn’t throw a touchdown.
Though McCaffrey is a skilled offensive weapon, as football analyst Warren Sharp noted, Newton has been one of the most successful short-yardage converters in the NFL.
The Panthers obviously know how valuable Cam is in short yardage there.
He’s the only QB with over 100 sneaks since 2015 & no one is a close second.
They had chances on three separate 3rd/4th & 1s & didn’t use him.
Decipher away, but they certainly know how solid the sneak is. pic.twitter.com/I10MrgSlSE
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 13, 2019
Thursday’s game followed a relatively quiet Week 1 from Newton in which he threw for 239 yards on 25-of-38 passing with 0 touchdowns. After that game, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Newton’s lack of rushing and deep shots Newton’s “call.”
Immediately, the NFL world has wondered about the health of Newton’s shoulder, which ended his 2018 season and required offseason surgery.
After Thursday’s game, Newton even suggested that some physical ailments could be holding him back, though he didn’t use it as an excuse.
“I have to be better,” Newton told reporters. “No matter what physical condition I’m in. No matter what, foot, shoulder … I didn’t get the job done, and it’s frustrating. I wish I could say something other than that, but that’s the fact. I’m a brutally honest person with people, and I’m a brutally honest person with myself. And 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 wore a walking boot in training camp to protect a foot injury. After the game, Rivera told reporters that Newton’s foot is no longer a problem.
The NFL world has been buzzing about Newton’s physical condition, however. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that the Bucs coaches said Newton is no longer the same running threat he once was.
It was the opinion of DC Todd Bowles and the #Bucs defensive coaching staff that Cam Newton still possessed a strong arm but that his quickness as a runner had diminished, whether because of his sprained foot or because he’s turned 30 is uncertain.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) September 13, 2019
Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman tweeted that many in the league think Newton is in worse shape than Andrew Luck. The former Colts QB retired from football at 29, due to physical ailments.
We are seeing in Cam what teams have been saying privately for some time: the physical pounding he’s taken over the years has manifested itself in rapid physical decline. Newton has taken a far worse beating than Luck and for Luck it was so bad he quit the game in his prime.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) September 13, 2019
Some think that Newton is simply in a recovery and adjustment process. He worked with quarterback guru Tom House this offseason to change his throwing motion. Some in the NFL world think Newton will figure out how to adjust over time.
I also think Cam knows what he needs to do. Actually going through with it is tough, though, because it requires rewiring how you approach a game played at warp speed.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 13, 2019
Cam's ball placement has been horrific.
One good thing about that (relative to long-term prognosis): go back and watch how he looked coming back in 2017 from shoulder surgery. Same issues.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 13, 2019
It’s unclear what type of team these Panthers are. They have played tough, competitive games this season, but ultimately lost both at home. However, it’s tough to know if they have a chance against the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars when it’s unclear what Newton will be able to do.
Given that through two games Newton has negative rushing yards, expecting him to return the Newton of old may be ill-advised. However, if Newton can return to being somewhat of a threat to run and able to hit his receivers in stride, the Panthers should be contenders in the NFC South. If he can’t, we may be witnessing the early demise of one of the NFL’s most gifted quarterbacks.
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