Some growing pains can be avoided.
Panthers QB Cam Newton was at a crossroads on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field . He could begin to pack it in on a miserable 2-8 season, or he could use the game against his childhood idol’s team, as motivation to bury the last 10 games and get Carolina moving in the right direction.
Cam’s had a tough year dealing with losing and the criticism that comes with it. He seems to have lost some of that excitement he had when he stormed the NFL last season as a dynamic rookie and drew comparisons to Vick. Having Vick’s game is cool, but if Cam’s paying attention, studying Vick’s career would be beneficial, as well.
Vick was a test dummy of sorts, for dynamic dual-threat QBs. He endured frustration and tug-of-wars with OCs, who tried to make him a pocket passer. Vick’s unprecedented ability and early demeanor was difficult to coach. Newton entered the league dealing with the same toxic mix of lofty expectations and haters as Vick . And, although Vick isn’t giving out man hugs, he is a walking jewel-dropper, who can school Cam on being a No. 1 pick, a highly lauded and criticized superstar, and the pressures and pitfalls involved with being a revolutionary talent.
Vick stood on the sideline in his money green Eagles coat and skully, nursing another concussion. His career has been chaotic, but he looked at peace. He has been where Newton is going. If Vick wasn’t hurt, he might have blessed us with one of those incomparable performances like his 333-passing yards, 80-rushing yards, 4-TD Monday Night Football game in 2010. It seemed only fitting that Newton have his first Monday football stage to himself.
Earlier in the week, on The NFL Network, Steve Mariucci and Michael Irvin were discussing what makes a great QB. Both agreed it was the way he can throw a pick, shake it off, stay positive, and lead his team on an 80-yard drive the next series.
Cam caught wreck in his first year, smashing rookie passing records, throwing for 4,051 yards and running like a derailed freight train. His mere presence was good for a four-game improvement to 6-10. The Panther’s entered this season as a hot playoff pick, but losing seven of the last eight games crushed those hopes.
Responding positively to losses hasn’t been a strong suit of Cam, this season. Last season, Cam was Mr. “Anything’s Possible.” Now, he sits dejected and bewildered, wearing a towel and a scowl and throwing his team under the bus in post-loss press conferences. The behavior’s been troubling to fans, media and teammates, like veteran receiver Steve Smith – especially considering Cam promised to be a better teammate, and do less pouting and more leading this season.
But last night – with his childhood idol watching-- Cam responded to the challenge and displayed the attributes of a leader and superstar.
Newton saw an opportunity to right the ship against a fading Philly team , decimated by injuries and stuck with a pass defense that, in the last five games, had surrendered 12 TDs, a completion percentage of 79.0 and a passer rating of 146.1.
From the very first Panthers drive, Newton wasn’t taking shorts in his inaugural Monday Night performance . He threw for 306 yards and two TDs and rushed for 52 yards and couple scores in the win.
The most revealing part of the evening came with Carolina trailing 15-14 in the 3rd-quarter. Philly was in command and Cam was missing passes that ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said Cam, “needed to make if he wants to win a championship in this league.”
Cam could have chalked it up as a typical loss in a lost season. Instead, he regroups and completes a third scoring drive by soaring head first over a pile of defenders.
Cam, at 6’5 and 245 pounds, is often called a “new-age” Vick because of his sick arm and game-breaking rushing. He was one of the thousands of kids inspired by Vick’s exploits in the early 2000s. Cam’s dad still has the No. 7 Falcon’s jersey Newton rocked as a young teenager growing up in Atlanta. He dreamed of following in Vick’s footsteps. Now he is forging his own path
Cam is supposed to be the “Superman” in Carolina’s quest towards a Lombardi. Vick knows the pressure well. Philly is the second franchise to anoint Vick its savior, and the scrappy QB’s window of opportunity is closing with every vicious lick he takes.
Thankfully for Newton, he’s still early in the game. He can flip the script and get it right. Cam can also learn some humility from Vick. The iPhone commercials, Gatorade and Under Armour endorsements are cool, but they don’t make you perfect. Vick had to lose his football life before he began maturing and refining his pocket passing and accuracy. He had to go bankrupt and prove himself again. Once Vick got his head right, he was more dangerous than ever, putting up his first 3,000-yard passing season in ’10.
Maybe Cam won’t wait until he’s broke and destitute to work on his maturity, attitude and in game leadership. A great NFL career goes quicker than a Hollywood hookup. Fresh legs turn to deviled eggs, and the cheers fade into oblivion. Cats like RG3 and Luck are doing the New Jack Swing. Cam is already old news, but it’s not too late for him to recapture the stature. Maybe Monday night was the re-start.