Don’t expect the apology tour for Cam Newton to be forthcoming. By now, the critics who were quick to compare Cam to Vince Young after five bad games worth of a sophomore slump must be holding on to that logic by a string.
Since Newton just finished 2012 with the best first two seasons of any NFL quarterback ever, that string of logic should be thinner than the first string of an acoustic guitar. Yep, listen to the haters hit those high notes as we speak.
All year long, the conversation on Cam has revolved around his maturity issues, and whether or not the record setting season performance seen in 2011 was an anomaly. There were doubters before he took a snap. Perhaps the most impressive rookie quarterback the league had ever seen was supposedly schemed into futility once defenses caught on to his act. And to make matters worse, few believed he had the intangibles to respond appropriately. Chalk that up to an inability to separate the player from the person, the quarterback critique from the character assassination.
Then, in the midst of his best stretch of play this season – which had naysayers on hushmouth like Cam's controversial 2010 Heisman Trophy run through the SEC – the second-year pro had a couple of seemingly immature moments against the Oakland Raiders. There was a kick to DT Tommy Kelly’s head when he was holding onto Newton’s leg about a second or two longer than what was necessary. Cam also bumped a referee, an inexcusable offense that he immediately apologized for. After the game, Kelly admitted the Raider defense was targeting Cam after the Panthers' D had already taken out Carson Palmer.
That bump-and-kick didn’t just result in separate fines for Newton, it gave the Cam-killers all the ammunition they had been salivating for. Since Carolina was about two months removed from the five-game losing streak when Cam took the most heat, bashing the young QB had become boring and uncalled for.
It was about as uncalled for as Rich Gannon drawing parallels between Newton and Ryan Leaf, a guy documented as one of the worst teammates to ever rock an NFL uniform. Leaf is the ultimate loser, arrested in connection with two burglaries in a week’s time, and that’s just in 2012. He was a screw-up long before that.
For any player to be compared to Ryan Leaf, he needs to ACTUALLY fail at something first. He can’t be on the verge, and certainly not one of the preeminent young quarterbacks in the league like Cam Newton is. Gannon played himself with that one.
The comments look even dumber considering the Panthers just finished the season on a four-game winning streak, won five of their last six games which could have been six of the last seven if it wasn’t for an overtime loss to the Buccaneers in Week 10. In that seven-game stretch, Cam went five straight games without throwing an interception and tossed 11 touchdowns to just two picks, which came in these last two games.
If this is really the leader of the Panthers squad – and I don’t see anyone arguing that point, for better or worse – then it makes no sense for Carolina to finish the way it did, with Cam playing the way he did, if he’s this spoiled brat who can’t hack it. What is this immaturity everyone keeps speaking of, while in the same breath having to acknowledge that we’ve never seen a cat quite like this?
This is Cam’s career line so far: 58 percent passing for 7,920 yards, 40 touchdowns and 29 interceptions; 253 rushes for 1,447 yards and another 22 touchdowns. The old record for net yardage for a quarterback in his first two seasons before Cam came around was 7,784, held by Peyton Manning. Newton was 800 yards ahead of that before Sunday’s win against the Saints, finishing with 9,367 net yards absolutely blows it out of the water.
As far as the intangibles, it’s hard not to look at the presser where he said “something’s going to have to change” and it almost immediately did. That was the impetus for the hard-fought, one-point loss to the Bears the next week, which could’ve gone differently if Newton hadn’t played one of his worst games of the season.
That was one of three losses in four games that preceded the strong finish to the season. Consider that Carolina was three points away from sweeping the season series from both New Orleans and Atlanta. The foundation is set for this group to be viable in the NFC South if they can add more talent around the franchise player.
These Cam-killers are going to have to make a decision.
How long do they want to sit on the wrong side of the argument? It’s one thing to wonder if he really pissed off his peers by coming across as standoff-ish at the Pro Bowl last year. It’s quite another to just start making stuff up, which is what a lot of Cam-killers seem to be doing .
No quarterback in this league is above criticism, not even first-ballot Hall of Fame ballers like Manning and Tom Brady. But no active quarterback should remind anyone of Ryan Leaf.