The Carolina Panthers are in a lose-lose situation regarding quarterback Cam Newton.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was arguably playing the best football over his entire career through the middle of the 2018 season. Newton, who won the league MVP award during a 15-1 regular season three years ago, again had the offense clicking.
Under new coordinator Norv Turner, Newton still wasn’t throwing the football down the field, but underneath and check down options were enough to get the job done. The emergence of first-round pick D.J. Moore at wide receiver and continued development of Curtis Samuel both helped to elevate his game, in addition to the stellar play of running back Christian McCaffrey.
However, as the season progressed Newton digressed. His shoulder soreness became more of an issue and twice he had to be removed when Carolina needed a deep ball in order to score before time expired. A continued hope at the playoffs led Ron Rivera to lean on Newton and ultimately he made the decision to shut down his franchise quarterback for the last two games of the regular season.
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Some agree, others do not and some even called for the move much earlier. The fact is, Rivera was going to lose no matter when he pulled the plug on Newton’s season. The captain and veteran leader, Newton already addressed his unwillingness to be sidelined back in 2016 when he originally injured the shoulder. Playing with a torn rotator cuff and no chance at the playoffs, Newton continued to lineup under center and in the backfield for the Panthers – largely due to him wanting to play if at all possible.
The former No. 1 overall pick obviously wanted the same this season and gave his best effort, but the shoulder just isn’t cooperating. Teams are increasingly aware that Carolina isn’t going to attempt down the field passes and Newton struggled mightily against the Saints on Monday night.
Now that the decision has been made, critics will pile on Rivera regardless of how the team performs over the next two games. If backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke plays well, everyone will say Rivera should have made the decision sooner in an effort to salvage the season – even one win over the current six game losing streak would have helped in the race for the playoffs.
Opposite, others assume pulling Newton in favor of Heinicke is essentially waving the white flag and giving up. Yes, Carolina isn’t mathematically eliminated yet, but they need a lot to happen for them to earn a wildcard position.
An eight game losing streak is no way to end any season, especially one that started with six wins over the first half. The streak would be the longest of Rivera’s tenure and tie for the worst since the Panthers dropped eight in the middle of the 2002 season after winning three straight to start the year.
Win or lose, Rivera will be questioned but he must act in the best interest of Newton and presumably, trotting him out for the past few weeks was cleared by the medical staff. He could even be fired with new owner David Tepper now in control, but Newton is under contract through the conclusion of the 2020 season and the future of the Panthers franchise rests on his surgically repaired shoulder.
Two games remain. Should Newton have been sidelined sooner? Yes. No. Maybe. Win or lose, there was no right answer.