In a Week 15 “Monday Night Football” game last season, the Carolina Panthers got the ball back with 1:44 left, trailing the New Orleans Saints 12-9. It’s a situation Cam Newton has thrived in before.
The guy wearing No. 1 in black didn’t resemble Newton once he wound up to throw. Every pass was a struggle. Each throw looked painful for him. Some missed badly. Newton looked like he was throwing a shot put. The Panthers didn’t get past midfield and took another loss. Even though they had a small chance to still make the playoffs after that loss, they smartly shut Newton down for the season. He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January.
Quarterbacks get hurt, even get surgery on their throwing arms and bounce back. Maybe this is just a normal part of Newton’s football journey and in September we’ll see the same cannon-arm, bulldozer-running former MVP we’re used to.
But it’s also impossible to act like Newton is a normal quarterback.
Newton is a unicorn, whose gifts as a passer and a runner make him arguably the greatest dual-threat quarterback in NFL history. Ignoring his skill as a runner would cut into his value, and the Panthers have used him a lot in the running game. His career low in rushing attempts for a season is 90, and that is tied for 42nd all-time among quarterbacks in a single season. On that all-time list of rushing attempts in a season by a quarterback, Newton ranks third, fourth, fifth, sixth, 14th, tied for 21st, tied for 24th and tied for 42nd. No quarterback has ever moonlighted as a running back as frequently as Newton.
So when Newton turned 30 years old in May, it might have been a more significant age milestone for him than any other quarterback. Do we treat him more like a running back, whose careers are generally deep on the back nine when they hit 30? It’s tough to say because there’s never been anyone like Newton in the NFL.
Watching him labor through last season with a bum shoulder — he was replaced for a Hail Mary during a game last October, which was alarming when you consider his prodigious arm strength — was tough. Credit him for playing almost all season through the injury, but now it’s fair to wonder if he’ll lose a few miles an hour on his fastball. It’s also fair to wonder if he and the Panthers will ever have another year like 2015.
The Panthers went 15-1 that season, Newton won an MVP but they lost Super Bowl 50. They’ve made it back to the playoffs just once, and lost in the wild-card round. It’s hard to put together a season like the 2015 Panthers and it’s nearly impossible to stay even close to that level. It’s even harder when your quarterback is hurting.
The Panthers looked great to start last season. They started 6-2. Then they were demolished by the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Thursday night, but that happens. Then they lost 20-19 at Detroit when a two-point conversion fell short. Then another loss. And another. They went from 6-2 to 6-9 before winning Week 17 against a Saints team playing for nothing.
The Panthers were unlucky last season. They lost close games. They had bad injury luck, ranking seventh in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost injury metric. If Newton bounces back and looks like his old self all season, the Panthers are in for a nice positive regression.
The part about Newton is key. The news to this point on his recovery from surgery has been good. Maybe he can bounce back to his MVP form. The clock is ticking, probably a little louder than for any other 30-year-old quarterback we’ve seen.
Reason for optimism
Potential Problem and other topics covered in link