CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The way this preseason has progressed for Carolina, it’s only fitting that star quarterback Cam Newton will miss some time with a hairline fracture to the lower-right rib area — an injury sustained last week against the Patriots.
After escaping serious injuries in last year’s 12-4 campaign, resulting in the NFC South title, the 2014 Panthers have been bitten by the injury bug pretty extensively, covering safeties, running backs and offensive linemen.
And now, this is just another setback for the quarterbacks and Newton, who had surgery in March and has yet to fully recover from the ankle operation (repairing ligaments).
"(Newton) won’t play this (Thursday at Pittsburgh)," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. "We’ll treat him day-by-day and evaluate him at the end of the week and see how he is. We expect him to get past the soreness in the next few days and then be able to do a lot more as the days go. And we’ll see how it all unfolds."
Newton suffered the rib injury on Friday, upon failing to slide while scrambling around to avoid the rush. He went to the ground, but while doing so, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins barreled into the QB’s back with a knee, which happened to catch Newton perfectly in the spot that wasn’t protected by a flak jacket.
The end result was a cracked rib.
"Unfortunately what happened was, the way the (flak jacket) sits, that was the only crease in the protection," Rivera said. "And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the one spot he got it on. … It’s crazy how that happens but that’s what happened."
Rivera said he’d prefer for Newton to slide, but the fourth-year quarterback simply isn’t the sliding type.
"He chose to tuck it and run. And one of the things he’s going to have to learn and understand is either dump it or learn how to slide," Rivera said. "That’s just who he is. He tries to get everything out of it, and it’s just unfortunate. One of those fluke things that happened."
Newton showed to be in a lot of discomfort Sunday, and it’s something that will likely linger for a while; but Rivera expects him to play against Tampa Bay in Week 1.
Dr. James Romanowski, an orthopedic surgeon with Gill Orthopedic Clinic in Charlotte, said the pain for Newton should be manageable, as there are ways to make it more bearable.
"Non-displaced, or hairline, rib fractures are treated with symptomatic care, i.e., ice and anti-inflammatories," Romanowski said. "Occasionally, stronger pain medication may be needed and sometimes local injections can be given to help with the pain. It is exceedingly rare to need surgery for this kind of fracture.
"Most rib fractures heal up within six weeks, but players are often times able to resume play much sooner — one to three weeks. Cam will likely need some modification to his protective gear. I think he’ll have some lingering pain, but if well controlled, he should be a go for Week 1 in Tampa."
Even so, that doesn’t help the situation Thursday night against Pittsburgh, where the Panthers may only have one quarterback available for the entire game.
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson and his wife are expecting their first child, and it could be born at any moment; so he may not make the trip. Fourth-stringer Matt Blanchard, who suffered a concussion against the Patriots, won’t be playing, as well.
That only leaves No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb, who wasn’t even expected to make the team. Now, given the Newton situation, Webb is likely to see extensive playing time this week and could make the opening-day roster.
Obviously, Newton’s injury comes at a bad time for the Panthers. His timing has been off substantially with his new corps of receivers, with the exception of rookie Kelvin Benjamin.
Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery have been ignored so much, it’s almost as if they haven’t even been on the field.
The timing/chemistry issues with Newton were substantial enough that he was expected to play in the preseason finale — a time when the established starters typically play just a series, if at all.
Now, Newton and the receivers will have to hope they can get everything ironed out before the Sept. 7 opener against the Buccaneers. However, it will likely take a couple of games for everyone to sync up — provided nobody else gets hurt.