On Wednesday, Cam Newton stood behind a podium and — justifiably — told reporters he believed he was playing the best football of his career.
His performance Sunday was anything but.
Newton threw for 300 yards and two scores, but also tossed a career-high four interceptions, matching a total he hadn’t reached since his rookie season in 2011. to his credit, he owned it — the disappointment and even the almost-comedic embarrassment.
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A reporter asked him to describe his second interception of the game, when Javien Elliott stepped in front of his pass to DJ Moore in the second quarter. Newton paused for a few seconds before shaking his head. He couldn’t remember.
“It’s sad because I don’t even know which one you’re talking about,” he admit.
“It was a personal blow for me, being that I just have to take care of the ball. It’s a low-percentage chance you’re going to win a football game if you turn the ball over four times. That’s just care-free football, we can’t have that, I can’t allow that and accept that for myself.
“I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision making.”
Panthers were critically inefficient on third down Sunday, converting three of eight attempts — with two conversions coming in the fourth quarter. Newton went 3-for-6 on third down for 42 yards and an interception, which came on his first pass attempt of the game. He was also sacked once on third down and picked up 1 yard on the ground on third-and-13.
The lack of execution on third down forced Carolina to play from behind the entire game, which meant more pass attempts — and that ultimately took its toll.
Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton’s surgically repaired shoulder was “a little bit sore” during and after the game, although the quarterback said he’ll be all right and his teammates didn’t sense anything was wrong until he was replaced by backup Taylor Heinicke for a last-second Hail Mary attempt.
“We ain’t see no difference. I guess he was hurting,” Moore said. “When Heinicke came in, I guess that was the breaking point of his arm. But he was fine the whole game. He didn’t say nothing that I know of about his shoulder.”
Newton brushed off questions about his shoulder after the game, believing his soreness was less prevalent than Carolina’s four-game losing streak. He said Sunday’s performance “wasn’t Carolina Panthers football” — but it certainly represented the way the team’s past four weeks have gone.
The former MVP said he never would’ve imagined his team would find itself at 6-6 after its 6-2 start, but that they “put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out.”
He said believes the Panthers are on the brink of doing just that. But given their three losses before Sunday despite his strong stat lines, the Panthers can’t afford another like the one he turned in in Tampa Bay.
That’s the burden of “Superman” — sore shoulder or not.