It would have been understandable, after his abysmal performance in a 22-10 Carolina Panthers loss on Sunday, for quarterback Cam Newton to pout or point the blame at any number of things that went wrong against the Atlanta Falcons.
After all, Newton’s statline reads like a nightmare – 14-of-34 passing for 180 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He was also sacked twice and started the game with nine straight incompletions. So ... yeah, abysmal.
But rather than mope, Newton took the blame and spun his worst-ever game by passer rating into a point of growth – and an opportunity for the team to improve.
“It’s no need to press panic, because we played a good team,” Newton said Wednesday. “Self-inflicted things never is good for you, and I felt like this past Sunday, I was the perfect indication of how our day was.
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“Protecting the football is very important, and I have to do a way better job doing that. Just holding my end of the bargain up.”
Saying you’ll do that is one thing. Actually doing it, and not letting the bad weigh you down? That’s different.
But Newton’s teammates have noticed his reaction, and it has giving the entire locker room a reason for optimism.
“He’s extremely calm,” receiver Russell Shepard said Wednesday. “He’s poised right now, man. Cam hates losing, I think everybody knows that, but to see him handle that game, that lackluster performance from the offense?
“If I wanted to use a metaphor right now, he’s like the calm before the storm. I see that in his eyes and I see that in his preparation.”
A familiar move
A positive response from Newton has worked for him before. Every quarterback has off days, and Newton has had a handful.
Some notable duds? Against Atlanta his rookie season, when he had three interceptions and just 237 yards in a loss, or against the Saints in 2014, when he went 10-for-28 for 151 yards and an interception, plus being sacked four times.
Newton almost always follows stinkers like those with solid performances, even when they come in another loss.
It’s the competitor in him, as Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday, that enables him to move on so quickly.
“There’s no need to sob over something you know I could have been better at,” Newton said after the loss. “These are the days pointing the blame, pointing the finger and even being harsh on yourself, you kind of stay stagnant.
“Right now we have to turn the page extremely fast. I’m gonna do that and focus on the next opponent.”
Newton, in his seventh season, doesn’t explain away his troubles because this player was injured or that player dropped a ball. He compartmentalizes what happened and gets past it.
Does coach Ron Rivera believe Newton has done that here?
“Very much so, and I’d like to believe the rest of the guys did, as well,” Rivera said. “There’s nothing that game can do for us other than learn from it, and I believe we’ve done that, so we’ve moved onto getting ready for New Orleans.”
All Newton can do now is what he’s already doing – coming into the facility, staying late, and acting like his normal self. There’s no sense dwelling on a bad game.
There’s no more season for the Panthers if Newton has another one, no more shots at redemption. How he rebounds from his worst-ever game will likely determine the Panthers’ playoff fate, against the Saints and, if Carolina wins, beyond.
Newton understands that.
“This is when the real football starts,” Newton said. “This is where you’re either made or broke.”