With the Carolina Panthers off to a slow start, as frustrated and disappointed owners of a 1-4 record, quarterback Cam Newton heads into the bye week of his second NFL season in search of answers.
Last year’s AP offensive Rookie of the Year is not just struggling, he’s playing out of character. Of the 26 quarterbacks to start last Sunday, the 6’5, 245-pound Newton, who dazzled the nation just a season ago, had the lowest Total QBR at 15.1 in the league. That came in a 16-12 Carolina loss to rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, where the beleaguered sophomore was sacked four times and completed just 12-of-29 passes for 141 yards as his offense failed to produce a touchdown. According to ESPN Stat & Info, for the season, the 49ers’ Alex Smith leads the NFL in passing rating and Total QBR through five weeks this season, while Newton comes in at 25 with a Total QBR of 42.4.
“I have to be accurate throwing the ball and check downs and that didn’t happen,” Newton said in a statement. “To a degree, I’m kind of embarrassed, you know? But things are going to get better.”
As one of the most scrutinized No. 1 overall picks in NFL draft history, the Heisman Trophy winners silenced his critics coming out of Auburn University to become one of the league’s most promising young superstars. In his NFL debut, Newton threw for 422 yards, eclipsing that mark in his second start passing for over 432, and in Week 7 he tied Vince Young’s record for rushing touchdowns by a rookie, with seven. At this point last year, the Panthers quarterback completed 60 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns. Heading into the bye week this season, Newton has thrown five interceptions, has only rushed for three touchdowns and completed just four TD passes. He’s also fumbled five times, equaling his total from last season.
Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, attributes his 23-year-old son’s precipitates decline to growing pains. He told WFNZ in Charlotte’s “The Drive with Taylor and March” on Monday, that he feels that Cam’s “just pressing and trying to do too much.” Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera told ESPN that Newton is trying too hard to make big plays and needs to concentrate more on taking what opposing defenses are willing to give him. There are 21 starting quarterbacks in the NFL with a higher pass completing percentage than Newton. Rivers said defenses have adjusted to Newton and the Panthers’ style of offense, which means the second year QB must go for shorter pass completions rather then attempting to force the ball down the field. Against the Seahawks on Sunday, Newton did the opposite forcing the ball down field too many times to Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith.
Although, Newton is currently embroiled in the sophomore slump, his superstar potential far outweighs his miscues. Eventually, Newton will be able to find the rhythm that enabled the young quarterback to produce a combined 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing), while throwing for more than 4,000 yards, last season. And when Newton rediscovers his old ways, the rest of the NFC South just might want to look out come November.