Cam Newton might be done. While he’s only 30 years old, Newton looked old and worn out Thursday night as his Carolina Panthers fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-14 in an absolutely awful game. It looked like the magic he once had was gone.
Despite numerous chances to make a statement play or lead a big drive, Newton failed repeatedly. He finished the night completing just 25-of-51 passes for 333 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Carolina’s offense failed to find the end zone, chipping in just four field goals and benefiting from a safety. It was a truly terrible performance at home. That followed an awful showing against the Rams in Week 1.
Newton hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in his last four games, and he’s lost his last eight starts.
It wasn’t just the numbers though, Newton looked like he was laboring all night. He missed wide open targets, his arm motion was never smooth and his passes had no zip on them. What’s more, he only ran the ball twice for no yards. There were plenty of chances to escape the pocket to pick up extra yards, but Newton demurred every time. He looked a like a guy nursing an injury.
Newton is now in his ninth NFL season, and we’ve seen him take an incredible amount of punishment over the years. He’s had two serious shoulder surgeries, a fractured rib, a fractured vertebrae and several ankle injuries. He’s also had at least one concussion.
While he’s always been interception-prone and has never posted a passer rating higher than 99.4, there’s no doubt Newton was a dynamic offensive player. His arm strength, size and running ability made him dangerous for defenses. The guy we saw Thursday night was something completely different. It was almost like he wasn’t all there. Mostly, the joy of playing football was gone. I hate to think it may have been beaten out of him after years behind a porous offensive line.
Newton was a first-team All-Pro, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and MVP in 2015. Four seasons later he looks like a shell of that player. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were fairly awful, but it looked like he might be improving in 2018 under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
In 2018, Newton completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,395 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His passer rating creeped back up to 94.2. But the way he’s opened the 2019 season has shown that may have been a facade. There’s appears to be nothing of substance behind it.
When he entered the league, Newton was a unique talent, unlike any the NFL had seen before. It’s becoming increasingly clear he’s never going to be that guy again.