Newton: I’m not playing great ball right now

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While Cam Newton admits he’s not been 100 percent in ”a long time,” the Panthers’ two-time Pro Bowl quarterback refused to use that as an excuse for his struggles during a four-game losing streak.

Newton took blame Wednesday for the team’s poor play.

”Everybody wants to ask questions about why are the Panthers struggling on offense and the first person you are going to look at is the quarterback – and I understand that,” Newton said.

”I will be the first person to admit I haven’t been playing great and I know that. I will take that responsibility and tell you that things will be better in the future.”

The fourth-year pro has completed just 52 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and six interceptions over the past four games, and Carolina (3-6-1) has fallen out of first place in the NFC South entering Sunday’s game against Atlanta.

The Panthers rank 25th in total offense following a stretch in which they are 1-6-1 in their past eight games.

It’s been a trying season for Newton.

He had ankle surgery in March and broke his ribs in the preseason, forcing him out of the season opener.

He’s played in the past nine games, but his mobility in the pocket has been limited. Newton averaged 677 yards rushing in his first three seasons and scored 28 touchdowns. This year, he has just 263 yards rushing and two TDs.

Newton is on pace to be sacked a career-high 48 times playing behind an inexperienced, banged-up offensive line.

Newton was sacked nine times in Carolina’s 45-21 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night, failing to sidestep oncoming pass rushers as he has in the past and leading to some reports that more injuries are the reason he’s not been as productive this season.

Newton said new injuries aren’t the problem.

”If you ask me if Cam Newton is hurt, yes, I’m hurt,” Newton said. ”That’s in all honesty. But can I play? Yes, I can play and I will be playing. It’s mind over matter. … That’s not an excuse for me to be playing the type of football that I’m playing.”

Coach Ron Rivera said he trusts Newton to tell him if he can’t play.

In the meantime, Rivera plans to continue to evaluate Newton in practice and continue to play him even when things aren’t going well. Rivera kept Newton in the game against the Eagles in the fourth quarter with the Panthers down 45-7.

”He’s the type of young man you want on the football field, and that’s leading by example,” Newton said. ”This game is different now. When you get players that want to step up and play hurt, that is a warrior mentality that seems to be lost a little bit.”

Newton said being sacked so many times this season hasn’t left him shell-shocked.

”It can’t,” Newton said. ”That is what separates the good quarterbacks from the ones that are so successful. You have to be able to stare down the barrel and complete a pass. You can’t be gun shy or have happy feet in the pocket because at the end of the day it’s all about trust.”

Newton said he needs to do a better job of protecting the football, checking down to his running backs and executing the offense.

Linebacker Thomas Davis said players in the Carolina locker room have immense respect for Newton’s toughness and leadership, and that he shouldn’t be bearing the brunt of the criticism.

He said it’s the team that struggled.

”We’ve got Cam’s back 100 percent,” Davis said. ”We’re not pointing the finger at him. We have games we’ve won this year because the offense played well. We had a game at Cincinnati where the offense put up 37 points and (the defense) didn’t hold up our end.”

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