He brought back the dab. He threw for 261 yards and a touchdown. He set the Panthers’ all-time record with his 47th rushing TD.
And still, Cam Newton lost Sunday.
What we saw from Newton in Carolina’s 20-17 home loss to Kansas City was a very good NFL quarterback – but not the force of nature he was a year ago.
Newton wouldn’t have let the Panthers lose a 17-point lead in 2015. He would have willed a win – somehow, some way. This season he has been all too human on a 3-6 team that needs him to be a superstar every week.
Newton made only a handful of bad plays Sunday, but they all cost Carolina dearly. Taking two straight sacks on a 20-play drive during the third quarter was inexcusable and cost the Panthers three points that they desperately could have used.
“I just have to find ways to get the ball out of my hands,” Newton said.
Then his lobbed interception under pressure in the direction of Greg Olsen ended up getting taken back 42 yards by Eric Berry during the fourth quarter for Kansas City’s only touchdown.
Still, Newton and the Panthers might have won had Kelvin Benjamin not fumbled the ball – and the game – away after catching a slant pass on Carolina’s last possession. We’ve certainly seen Newton win games like this before, and on the Panthers’ last offensive snap he put the ball right where he needed to. Benjamin messed that one up, allowing himself to be stripped by cornerback Marcus Peters.
“I took it from him,” Peters said. “It was simple.”
The Panthers (3-6) are now 1-4 in games decided by three points or fewer this season.
“Things happen,” Newton said of the play. “There’s no need to grieve over something that we all understand, it just happens.”
It’s also true that the Panthers did not score a single point in the second half. That can’t happen. The Panthers had a makeshift offensive line and Olsen uncharacteristically had two drops on the day, but it still can’t happen. Newton holding the ball too long, thinking he can make a play and instead getting sacked, has been one of the themes of this lost season. It almost happened in the first quarter, and then it did happen in the third.
As for the dab, Newton had “retired” his signature dance move after a touchdown after last season. He brought it back after his 4-yard rushing TD during the second quarter, first making sure the crowd’s eyes were on him with a long pause, and then jubilantly dabbing.
Newton said he thought the team needed a “spark” after his TD and referenced the people who had lobbied for him to bring the move back.
“I guess it was much anticipated,” he said.
It was. And as the Panthers built up that second-quarter 17-0 lead, the home crowd was loud and proud. Then, as has so often has happened this season, the momentum turned the other way and the Panthers could not stop it.
“We played three great quarters of football,” Newton said. “Well, really, one great half of football.”
Carolina led Kansas City 17-3 at the end of three quarters. Then came the collapse.
It was far from just No. 1’s fault. But Newton was the guy best equipped to stop it. And he couldn’t.