Is Newton the quarterback of the future for the Panthers?

 

Carolina’s first touchdown on Thursday was a result of Cam Newton flying through the air from the 5-yard line and stretching for the pylon. It was an amazingly athletic feat.

I’ll spare you the reference to Superman. Even though on the night before Halloween, the Man of Steel was an extremely popular costume idea at Bank of America Stadium.

The trick-or-treaters in the stands were obviously impostors. But Newton has been of late too.

In the two games prior to Thursday (losses to Green Bay and Seattle), Newton was 29 for 53 (54.7 percent) for 376 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He added 65 yards on the ground.

To put that into perspective, passers have thrown for at least 376 yards in a game on 10 different occasions (nine quarterbacks — Andrew Luck did it twice). It took Newton two games to compile those numbers.

His performance against the Saints on Thursday was even worse.

At 10 for 28, Newton completed just 35.7 percent of his passes. He didn’t toss a touchdown pass, was picked off once and had a measly passer rating of 39.4. His completion rate and number of completions were both career lows.

Numbers don’t tell enough of the story, however.

After watching 18 of Newton’s passes miss their target, it’s easy to see there’s a problem. It’s more than just working with a new group of receivers. It’s more than trying to get a rookie in Kelvin Benjamin up to NFL speed. And forget about using the excuse of a battered and inexperienced offensive line.

While his supporting cast hasn’t helped Newton, there’s still something else off. After the game, head coach Ron Rivera said if it was just one thing, the team would fix it. Newton said he couldn’t put a finger on his issues, personally. He just knows a change is needed.

"It’s not anything that the teams we’re playing are doing," said Newton. "It’s just us manning up. It’s us getting out-executed. I knew I missed a lot of throws and I’m not blaming anyone but myself.

"I will look forward to these next few days, having time off. But yet finding something out; what’s not firing on all cylinders."

Newton had troubles tonight with footballs sailing. And that’s not a new issue. Of his misses toward the sideline, several were so far over the heads of receivers, or behind them, that it would have taken 10 extra yards of field to catch them.

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There was also an issue with floating the football to his receivers. Newton got Jerricho Cotchery clobbered in the first quarter with a floater that Cotchery, who was wide open and would have scored a touchdown had Newton led him with a pass, coughed up after two defensive backs closed ground and drilled him.

When passes weren’t sprayed out of bounds, or slowly aimed toward unsuspecting receivers, Newton fired passes too high. There was an instance early in the fourth quarter when a 6-foot-5 Benjamin couldn’t jump high enough to make a touchdown grab. The Panthers had to settle for a field goal.

Newton was off tonight, and he knew it almost instantly, he said. But the fact that three years and eight games into his professional career he still doesn’t know what the problem is, that’s scary. Newton didn’t just start throwing too high. He hasn’t just recently become erratic.

The question has to be asked. Is Newton really the right quarterback to be Carolina’s face of the franchise for year’s to come? Is he the right guy to lead this team to a Super Bowl?

Newton is slated to enter the final year of his rookie contract next season. There’s been little progress reported toward signing a long-term deal. Maybe that’s by design. Maybe the Panthers are waiting to see if Newton does figure out what’s gone wrong.

Sure, Newton is only 25 years old and he likely has many years left in the NFL. And it does take time for a young quarterback to emerge. But age isn’t an extremely credible determining factor.

Andrew Luck is 25 years old. He’s leading the NFL is passing yards. Nick Foles is 25, and Colin Kaepernick and Kirk Cousins are 26. They all have more passing yards and a higher completion rate — and their teams have more wins than the Panthers. Age isn’t holding them back.

With nine interceptions each, no one is going to put Cousins or Foles on a list of like-aged quarterbacks that could be better than Newton. But that list — a group that didn’t exist two years ago — is starting to propgate.

It’s not fair to say that Newton is regressing. He’s had a rough three weeks, but it not apparent he’s on the wrong side of a career apex just yet. But it is pretty obvious that he’s not three and a half years better than when he entered the NFL.

And that’s a problem.

Especially since the home crowd on national television started chanting for backup Derek Anderson in the second quarter. It wasn’t a boisterous chant, but it was a rumbling nonetheless.

That too, is a problem.