If Panthers coach Ron Rivera was looking for a sign telling him not to play quarterback Cam Newton in Thursday’s exhibition finale against Pittsburgh, the first quarter of Friday’s New England-Detroit game might have provided it.
That’s when Patriots leading receiver Julian Edelman went down with a non-contact injury that turned out to be a complete tear of his ACL, as MMQB’s Albert Breer first reported Saturday.
Edelman’s season is almost certainly over because of a serious injury. In August. In a meaningless game.
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Newton has firsthand experience with getting hurt in an exhibition. Fortunately, the cracked ribs he sustained against New England in 2014 sidelined him only one regular-season game, not an entire season.
Newton and Edelman are different players at different positions in completely different situations. But the injury to one of the Patriots’ most important pieces is another reminder why NFL coaches hold their collective breath every August during these exhibitions.
Playing Cam Newton vs. Pittsburgh would also mean playing the other offensive starters. That scenario would create the potential for injury to other key players.
Newton, coming off shoulder surgery in March, said after last week’s game at Jacksonville he had hoped to play more and thinks he needs additional reps.
Rivera said Newton’s one-series stint against the Jags. did “not necessarily” mean Newton would see action against the Steelers.
In his first six years in the NFL, Newton has only played in the final exhibition against Pittsburgh once. That was Newton’s rookie year of 2011 when – much like this year – Newton did not participate in OTAs or minicamp because of the lockout.
Newton and the rest of the offensive starters played the first series against the Steelers that year, with Newton scrambling for 19 yards and capping the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey.
And that was it. Rivera got Newton out of the game and put in Derek Anderson.
If the idea of getting Newton a few more game-speed reps is to help get his timing down (and using the 2011 game as a guide), playing Newton vs. Pittsburgh would also mean playing the other offensive starters.
That scenario would create the potential for injury to other key players.
But Rivera bristled this month when asked the risk-vs.-reward question before the joint practices at Tennessee.
“We get out here and there’s a risk of injury any time of the day,” Rivera said.
And he’s right. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dislocated his knee and tore his ACL on a non-contact play during a practice last summer, ending his season.
It’s a tough call, and the Panthers have been exercising caution with Newton since his setback the first week of training camp.
That said, I don’t think it’s a given Newton sits this week.