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Fowler: Panthers QB Cam Newton’s rib injury shakes people up

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/22/12/lVsED.Em.138.jpeg|389
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) scrambles out of the backfield prior to being tackled by New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (91) during second quarter action vs the New England Patriotsat Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/22/12/1gHv59.Em.138.jpeg|207
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Official Undrey Wash (96) looks to the Carolina Panthers bench for assistance with quarterback Cam Newton (1) following a scramble during second quarter action against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/22/12/1dyPA9.Em.138.jpeg|224
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) stands on the team's sideline after being walked to the bench after being tackled by New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (91) during second quarter action vs the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/22/12/E9dgW.Em.138.jpeg|343
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) rests on his knees after being tackled by New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (91) on a scramble during second quarter action vs the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.

The ironic thing about how quarterback Cam Newton suffered a hairline rib fracture Friday night is that he did it trying to be careful.

On a 7-yard scramble, Newton saw an incoming New England linebacker and tried to get down. The problem: Newton always has had that alpha male, “I don’t slide” mentality. And so he’s no good at getting down. He can’t slide.

Instead, he basically tackled himself, falling face-first on the ground, and then he took a knee to his back from the linebacker that caused the fracture.

And so now the Carolina Panthers have a whole new set of questions to throw on top of those caused by the 30-7 blowout loss Friday night.

The most relevant one: Will Newton really be ready to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay?

Now this is minor compared to what happened over the weekend to St. Louis. Rams starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore up his knee again – it happened the first time last October against Carolina – and was lost for the 2014 season.

In NFL terms, Bradford’s second straight awful injury is an earthquake.

Newton’s injury is a tremor.

But it shakes people up just the same.

The Panthers have ruled Newton out for the final exhibition, which wasn’t what they wanted to do but what they had to do. Coach Ron Rivera was upset with the offense’s inconsistency Friday, and he planned to play all of the starters at least for a while Thursday night at Pittsburgh.

That plan went out the window when Newton came into the Panthers’ facility Sunday hunched over like Quasimodo. He was hurriedly sent for the X-rays that showed the fractured rib. Now Newton has just less than two weeks to rest and rehab before the Tampa Bay game.

I think he will start against Tampa Bay. If you haven’t noticed, underneath the smile and the showmanship is an extremely tough guy. Newton has gone 49-for-49 in terms of starting games that count for Carolina – three entire regular seasons and one playoff game – and he has played through a number of nagging injuries and a lot of pain to do that.

What I wonder about more is his effectiveness. Newton can’t run yet, or he has been told not to, or he doesn’t quite trust his surgically repaired ankle – or a combination of all three. When he has scrambled during the two exhibitions he has played, folks have cringed all over the Carolinas. He looks slower and more tentative.

He has looked good throwing the ball to rookie Kelvin Benjamin but average at best throwing it to anyone else. He will end the exhibition season without a touchdown pass (but also without an interception).

Newton and everyone else will wish he had more time with his new corps of receivers, but that’s just not happening now. As Rivera said Sunday, there’s a “lot of concern” right now about Newton’s ribs and back. He just needs to get healthy.

The NFL is a lot about talent, but it’s also a lot about adjusting on the fly. How well the Panthers and Newton adjust to this curveball will end up heavily influencing this season.

Now it’s important for everyone to realize this is not the end of the Panthers’ world and to take a slow, deep breath.

But given Newton’s injury, it probably hurts to do even that.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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