Cam Newton threw out his own version of the Aaron Rodgers “Relax” speech on Sunday after Carolina got humiliated at home, 34-13, by the New Orleans Saints.
It’s too early to tell whether that delivery will also get picked off.
Newton fired three nasty interceptions, had no passing touchdowns and posted the third-worst quarterback rating of his career Sunday against a Saints defense that entered the game at the bottom of the NFL. But the quarterback attempted to offer hope following the game to Panthers fans who had watched the implosion.
“Moving forward, there’s no need to panic, there’s no need to rush, there’s no need to be up in arms about our situation,” Newton said in his postgame press conference. “Should you be frustrated as a fan? Absolutely. I’m frustrated with my lackluster performance and knowing that we are better than the performances we’ve been putting on the past couple of weeks. But listen – just be patient and know that big things are ahead for us. This year’s Panthers team has big things to do.”
You could have fooled anyone who watched Sunday’s game. New Orleans dominated in every facet while dropping Carolina to 2-1. There was no public protest during the national anthem on the Panthers sideline (although Carolina’s Julius Peppers later explained his own personal protest, which was not coming onto the field at all for the anthem to express his displeasure about recent comments regarding the NFL by President Donald Trump).
Panthers fans may or may not have noticed Peppers’ brief absence, but they sent up their own howls of protest at the Carolina offense’s penchant for self-destruction. That streak was exacerbated by Newton forcing the ball and by head coach Ron Rivera punting the ball on fourth-and-5 from the New Orleans 35, with Carolina down 24-6 midway through the third quarter.
Rivera said he called for the punt because he didn’t want New Orleans to get any more offensive momentum. It was too late for that, though – the Saints had already Hoovered up every bit of momentum in the stadium.
The whole afternoon marked the first time in more than a year that boos rang out that loudly and that often for the home team at Bank of America Stadium.
“We screwed ourselves by not making plays when we had opportunities more so than anything else,” an obviously angry Rivera said right after the game.
No Benjamin or Olsen
Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback, gave his “R-E-L-A-X” speech at a similar time in the 2014 season. The Packers had actually started worse than the Panthers, at 1-2. The offense was stagnant and Rodgers was playing poorly.
On his weekly radio show three years ago, Rodgers said: “Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We’re going to be OK.”
And they were. Green Bay ended up 12-4 that season and made it to the NFC conference championship.
Can Newton and the offense ever really get it together? Newton’s 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player season attests to how great he can be. But the quarterback seems to be rarely able to practice on anything more than a limited basis anymore, which limits the amount of time he has to fix his “forcing-the-ball” and timing issues.
By the second half on Sunday, Newton was without his starting center (Ryan Kalil), his Pro Bowl tight end (Greg Olsen) and his favorite wide receiver (Kelvin Benjamin, down with a knee injury). He did still run for one touchdown and sling it to Christian McCaffrey – used more effectively Sunday – for 101 yards receiving, but that was about it for the good stuff.
The bad stuff for the offense is too numerous to go into voluminous detail about, so here are just a couple of examples:
▪ The Panthers gave Panthers left tackle Matt Kalil a five-year, $55.5-million contract in the offseason. Kalil slid the wrong way on third-and-4 from the New Orleans 8 on Carolina’s first drive Sunday, which gave Cameron Jordan one of the easiest sacks he has ever had.
“Mental error on my part,” Kalil said. “I thought the slide was one way and I went the wrong way, so that’s not good.”
Growled Rivera: “We turned right instead of going left.” Kalil did fall on his own sword, calling the mistake “stupid.”
▪ Newton’s interceptions were all well-earned, but one that was intended for McCaffrey in particular came out like a 100-mile fastball from 5 yards away. It was too high and too hot, and the Saints caught it on the deflection.
“I put the defense in some screwed-up situations,” Newton said.
‘I’m a touchdown guy’
The Saints scored a lot of points Sunday, but that’s somewhat to be expected. Drew Brees is fantastic and has been since about 1967. Carolina had to score big to match New Orleans, and instead the Panthers ended up with 13 against a defense that was allowing 32.5 points per game.
“I’m a touchdown guy,” said Panthers tight end Ed Dickson, who replaced Olsen in the lineup and wasn’t targeted for the game’s first 59 minutes. “I love Graham (Gano). He can kick a thousand field goals. But if you don’t score touchdowns, you allow the other team to stick around.”
The Saints did more than stick around. They crushed Carolina, which makes it hard for the Panthers fans to take Newton’s advice right now, no matter how well-reasoned it sounds in the light of day.
The quarterback declared Sunday that patience is a virtue.
In the NFL, touchdown passes are virtues, too. And unless Newton can suddenly come up with about three or four of them next Sunday in New England, the Panthers have no chance.