Carolina Panthers

Pieces of Panthers QB Cam Newton’s game are coming back, but when will all of it?

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) has been inconsistent in his first two games back from shoulder surgery, but his team is 2-0.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) has been inconsistent in his first two games back from shoulder surgery, but his team is 2-0. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Carolina Panthers are two games into the 2017 season, and so far quarterback Cam Newton has thrown 57 passes (and completed 34). Newton threw two passes in one game in the preseason.

So he has thrown 59 live-action passes in about nine months, after spending the larger portion of training camp not even throwing in team drills. He wasn’t cleared to throw overhand at all until the end of June.

Coach Ron Rivera and the Panthers wish that number was much, much higher – but there’s nothing they can do about that now.

The only thing Carolina can do is be patient and execute their game plan as Newton continues to shake off the rust that built up as he rehabilitated a surgically repaired shoulder. Part of that plan means that Newton will take more days off from throwing throughout the week (although he will continue to practice full-speed in non-throwing activities).

“Somebody likened it to a pitcher,” Rivera said Wednesday. “A guy has to get back into form when he goes on the DL and then comes back. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have that opportunity to have all of those ‘minor league’ games that he goes out and throws. We only had one series, really, in the Jacksonville game. So we’re trying to get to that point.

“When? I’m not sure. But we’ll know. We’ll see.”

Different facets of Newton’s game seemed to click at different times in each of Carolina’s games thus far.

His audible to receiver Russell Shepard led to the team’s first touchdown of the season against San Francisco. He has also connected with running back/receiver Christian McCaffrey early and often, including on simple – yet effective – check-down passes.

Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Russell Shepard has a pass from quarterback Cam Newton knocked away by Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer (21) during the second quarter Sunday. Different results on two passes into the end zone could have changed the perception of Newton’s performance. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Against Buffalo, Newton found success early with his primary receivers, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, on mid- to deeper-range routes he loves to throw. He also ran for chunks of yardage twice, a traditional strength of his.

Some of the success has come courtesy of the defensive schemes Newton has seen.

San Francisco played the Panthers largely in a soft zone, which allowed Newton to execute the shorter underneath passes popular with McCaffrey. The running back finished the game as the top-targeted receiver as Newton found a rhthym on those “layup” balls.

Buffalo’s linebackers played Carolina tighter, allowing more room in the middle of the field for Funchess and Benjamin to operate – but less room for McCaffrey and other underneath options. When Bills coach Sean McDermott’s blitz dial-ups escalated and the pressure on Newton increased, the quarterback had less time to wait on longer routes to develop.

Other facets of Newton’s game have looked, well, rusty.

He completely missed a true layup to McCaffrey that would have been a touchdown.

Newton has also overthrown a wide-open Ed Dickson in consecutive games, with one throw being a potential touchdown. (That streak needs to be broken immediately, since Dickson will be taking over for tight end Greg Olsen, who went on injured reserve Tuesday.)

Newton admitted after the Buffalo game that he was disappointed in himself.

But his mistakes Sunday may not have looked so glaring if promising drives weren’t piddled away into field goals. On the opening drive, Newton’s pass to Benjamin was dropped in the end zone after Benjamin took a huge hit, and another touchdown attempt thrown to Shepard in a tight window was broken up.

“We just need to score touchdowns,” Newton said. “If we score touchdowns, then everything else will be good.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue

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