The irrefutable numbers tell us that Cam Newton is one of the least effective quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s completing 53.7 percent of his passes for the Carolina Panthers. Colin Kaepernick was benched for hitting 59 percent for San Francisco. At 53 percent you’re in Ryan Mallett territory, wherever that may be.
Newton’s interception percentage – 3.7 – is worse than that of Kirk Cousins, Ryan Fitzpatrick and almost everyone else. Everyone expected so much more from Newton when he was the league’s No. 1 draft pick in 2011, after winning the Heisman Trophy (beating out Andrew Luck) and national championship at Auburn University.
As a pro, Newton has been a scene stealer of a performer, with his power runs to the end zone followed by his Superman poses. Of course, on his jersey is the number 1. But he’s not produced the other numbers we expected. His passer rating is 81.3, worse than the much ridiculed Kaepernick and Cousins and the side-arming curve-baller Matthew Stafford of Detroit.
Not to mention Brian Hoyer at 97.1 and Josh McCown at 95.2. Yes there are reasons other than Cam Newton to question the validity of passer ratings.
The only numbers that matter here are 8-0, which became the Panthers’ record Sunday after they defended their home turf, 37-29, against the Green Bay Packers. “It’s not a pretty 8,” Newton said, “but 8 is gorgeous in itself.”
Newton set the Packers on edge from the beginning. Even before. When he trotted out to the Bank of America field he saw a Packers banner hanging on the wall. He proceeded to tear it down.
“I feel it’s my due diligence to protect this house,” Newton said. “We played in Green Bay last year and I didn’t see no ‘This Is Panthers Country’ sign in the stadium.”
Packers fan later protested that he paid $500 for the banner Newton destroyed. But Newton would not apologize. As he sees it, “you don’t go into McDonald’s selling Whoppers.”
That sort of flamboyant gesture is typical of Newton. You could not imagine Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson ripping off a fan’s banner.
But you can hardly argue that Newton’s theatrics and self-glorification are damaging to his team’s morale. The Panthers played with more passion than the Packers, who are quarterbacked by the reigning Most Valuable Player and were preseason favorites to earn the NFC bid to the Super Bowl. They were 3-point favorites to win in Panther Country.
But it was Newton and the Panthers who kept their composure throughout the day, while Aaron Rodgers and the team from Titletown threw their temper tantrums.
After Rodgers ended his team’s chance at victory by tossing an interception late in the fourth quarter, he sat on the bench and reviewed the play on Microsoft Surface, official tablet computer of the NFL.
When Randall Cobb appeared on the Surface, wide open in the end zone, Rodgers – Mr. R-E-L-A-X himself — hurled the device to the ground.
In another Packers sideline vignette, linebacker Julius Peppers scuffled with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who could not be more appropriately named. Ha Ha brings smiles and laughter to the receivers he trails on the deep routes.
Not that Peppers, looking every minute of his 35 years, did little to obstruct Newton, who passed for 297 yards, ran for 57, passed for three touchdowns and ran for one.
Newton completed three passes that traveled more than 30 yards in the air, which is where Dix comes into the picture. Or doesn’t.
As for Rodgers, except for his one untimely interception he played his usual skillful game. He amassed 369 yards with his 48 passes. But Newton was the more effective quarterback and on this day even posted the superior numbers.
Rodgers, who has the more accomplished linemen protecting him and runs faster than most NFL quarterbacks, was sacked five times. But Newton is even faster than Rodgers, so he escaped the pocket whenever he needed. He threw an interception, as he does almost every week, but it did not define the game the way Rodgers’ pick did.
The difficulty of rating quarterbacks is that they are more the product than the producer of the team around them. Newton is surrounded by Panthers who, with the notable exceptions of tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil, are average to mediocre.
When Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season before it began, Carolina’s No. 1 wide receiver became Tedd Ginn Jr., who has the legs of a racehorse. And the hands.
It’s easy to see 53 percent when you’re throwing outside to Ginn and Corey Brown and your slot receiver, for the underneath stuff, is 33-year-old Jerricho Cotchery. Not a lot of after-catch yardage there.
Fortunately, Newton is so physically strong and so physically and mentally quick that he overcomes whatever pressure is brought against him while his good-to-bad receivers struggle to get open.
Ginn observed that “there’s nobody you can compare him to. What guy is 6-foot-5 who can throw a bomb like he can do and pull it down like he can do?”
The closest may be Wilson, who has comparable speed and the deep-pass ability, but at 5-10 is not nearly the goal-line power runner that Newton is. Although the Panthers have a respected running back in Jonathan Stewart, Newton outweighs Stewart 245-235 and leads the team in rushing touchdowns, 5, and first-down runs, 27.
While the Panthers are limited in weapons, offensive coordinator Mike Shula mixes in a regular dose of trick plays. He had one too many Sunday, when he called for third-string quarterback Joe Webb to stand next to Newton in the backfield and take a direct snap. A fumble resulted at the Green Bay 24, and though Carolina recovered the ball, the second-quarter drive stalled.
For Newton, one of the more encouraging developments of the game was the emergence of second-round draft pick Devin Funchess. At 6-4, Funchess is at least three inches taller than the other wide receivers on the team. He was not well covered by the undersized Packers secondary. He caught three passes for 71 yards.
If Funchess continues to develop, we may see Newton produce numbers worthy of his ability and his draft status. Maybe even worthy, as some are already suggesting, of MVP.