On Sunday evening, the Carolina Panthers fell to the Green Bay Packers in a snow-filled contest at Lambeau Field.
As the Panthers got inside the 10-yard line in the closing seconds, one couldn’t help but wonder what would happen had Cam Newton been in the game. Carolina had four plays from inside the five, and came away with nothing to show for it. For the second time this season, MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey was stopped just inches short of a Panthers victory. The loss on Sunday couldn’t have hurt any worse.
Kyle Allen had a career day, but it wasn’t without crucial mistakes
For the first time in his young NFL career, Kyle Allen threw for more than 300 yards against the Packers. Allen finished 28-43 passing for 307 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Allen played well for most of the game, and made numerous impressive throws, however, his interception couldn’t have come at a worse time. With the Panthers driving and down 21-10, Allen fired his first career red-zone interception and brought the drive to a disappointing end. He also committed his seventh fumble in seven games, which led to Green Bay’s second touchdown of the game.
Newton has been nearly automatic in short-run situations during his career
Over the course of his now nine-year career, Newton has become the best short-yardage ball carrier in the game. In situations with three yards or less to go, the 2015 MVP has picked up a first down or touchdown on 76 percent of his attempts. As good as McCaffrey is, he has converted on just 62 percent of such attempts during his career. The polarizing quarterback may never be the same runner he once was, but it stands to reason that a 6’5,” 245 pound Newton would have picked up the two yards that the Panthers needed on Sunday.
Newton isn’t healthy right now, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to move on
As of right now, Newton clearly isn’t healthy enough to be completely effective, however, that is no reason for the Panthers to be ready to give up on him. Just over a year ago, he was among the top-performing quarterbacks in the league and led Carolina to a 6-2 start. When he reinjured his throwing shoulder halfway through the season, his play understandably worsened and he was eventually shut down. Almost immediately after he returned in Week Three of this past preseason, Newton injured his left foot, and it has plagued him ever since. Following two lackluster performances in which he struggled through the foot injury, Allen was handed the keys to the Panthers offense.
Allen has played well at times, but he’s also made a plethora of costly mistakes, and has yet to beat a “good” team. Certainly he has needed to beat the lower-tier teams, but it doesn’t make sense to call for him to permanently replace Newton until he proves his worth against top competition. Sunday’s game was a perfect example. Allen wasn’t bad for most of the night, but he turned the ball over at inopportune times, and couldn’t come up with the proverbial “big play” when the Panthers needed it most.
Since entering the league, Newton’s edge has always been his rushing ability. He has never been an excellent passer, however, his ability as a dual-threat quarterback have opened opportunities for his to succeed as a passer. Allen’s limitations as a runner were on full display during the loss to Green Bay–on the interception as well as on the final drive, Allen had opportunities to make plays with his legs, and he failed to do so. It could have been because he was trying to do too much, it could’ve been a confidence thing, or it could’ve been simply that running isn’t a part of his arsenal. Regardless, those situations likely would have had different outcomes had Newton been healthy and in the game.
Newton’s contract shouldn’t be the deciding factor in his future with the team
It’s true that the Panthers could save almost $20 million in cap space next season if they move on from Newton, however, what experts often leave out in that scenario is the fact that Allen is a restricted free-agent at season’s end. As an RFA, the Panthers would have an option to offer him a tender, which Allen could sign, or he could be offered by another team, although the Panthers would have an opportunity to match or beat the other team’s offer.
Regardless of where he signs this offseason, Allen will see a significant pay increase next year. With that being said, is merely having a cheaper Allen worth moving on from a former MVP who still may have some prime left in him? Not to mention the fact that the $21 million that Newton would be owed next season is a complete bargain for a quarterback of his caliber. Extending McCaffrey should certainly be a priority for the Panthers, but parting ways with Newton isn’t the only way to achieve that. The bottom-line is this: even if Carolina did move on from Cam, there’s not one specific place where the money needs to be spent.
Newton obviously couldn’t play on Sunday, but it did ultimately reflect the team’s need for him
The most important thing you need to understand about this article is that I’m not saying Newton should have, or even could have, been on the field today. What I am saying is that the game’s final play, and several in-between, reflected Carolina’s need for the 30-year-old star. There’s no way to definitively say that the Panthers would have won this game had he been healthy, however, the last play on Sunday highlighted Newton’s absence more than ever.
Against Tampa Bay, Newton played, but he wasn’t healthy enough to keep the ball on the game-deciding play. On Sunday, he obviously wasn’t even on the field. Both times, the Panthers failed to score and lost as a result. Those are the situations Cam Newton thrives in. Tough, gritty, smash-mouth games are right up his alley and ones he wins more often than not. If Newton has indeed played his final game in a Panthers uniform, the impact he has had on the franchise and the future of quarterback play is unmatched.