Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton’s deep ball? Hiding between fantasy football jokes and constant questions

Cam Newton: Quarterback, entertainer and fantasy-football critic.

First some context. In a 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1, the Panthers’ passer didn’t have a completion longer than 17 yards. His longest completed air distance on any pass, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, was just 33.7 yards. Of Newton’s 239 passing yards, about two-thirds of them came on completions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

And after Newton’s shoulder soreness last season, coupled with having arthroscopic surgery in January, those type of statistics only exacerbated questions about Newton’s health.

Can Cam still throw the deep ball? And if he can’t, what sort of threat is he at quarterback?

In Newton’s weekly news conference Tuesday, he faced a similar barrage. And yes, he admitted that those questions have started to grow irksome.

“Yeah, because you’re only asking me because of my shoulder,” Newton said. “How about this? You talk to the defensive coordinator for Tampa and don’t think I can throw the ball over 20 yards, and see how far that gets you. How ‘bout that?”

Point taken.

And then, any sort of discontent flipped to humor.

Asked about calling running back Christian McCaffrey an “easy button” last week, he interjected, “Did I lie?”

That turned out to be a jumping off point. When further probed about McCaffrey’s usage, the quarterback displayed an apt understanding of fantasy football — and some hard-hitting questions for his offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

“As I’m reviewing plays and I’m turning the plays (from last week), H this and H that — and if you don’t know, he’s the H — I’m like man, I think coach has got C-Mac up for fantasy this week,” Newton joked as a wide smirk broke out on his face. “I think he picked C-Mac for fantasy, I think that’s what it is!

“Doggone Norv done picked C-Mac for fantasy, man. I should’ve gone over and seen who he was drafting in his league.”

And then, the kicker.

“That’s probably why we ain’t doing no deep passes, right?” Newton exclaimed, practically laughing out loud as he said it. “Because he didn’t pick me for his quarterback! Now it’s all making sense. Gollee.”

In standard ESPN points per reception (PPR) fantasy-football leagues, McCaffrey recorded 42.9 points Sunday. That’s among the highest figures for any player in the league for Week 1.

Newton scored just 5.4.

Newton kept the shtick going when discussing McCaffrey’s 8-yard touchdown from the Wildcat formation where he received the direct snap instead of the quarterback.

“Well listen, a lightbulb just went off in my mind right now,” Newton said. “I was wondering why coach kept calling those wildcat plays ... I’m about to go check coach right now. Well, I could’ve scored really, if he would have just (called the run) regularly without the Wildcat edition — he just didn’t want me to score.

“Coach holding me back! Doggone Norvell, boy. Just wait.”

Since Turner arrived in Carolina before the 2018 season, he and Newton have developed a rapport and helped fine-tune Newton’s throwing mechanics. But with two so dramatically different personalities — Newton, the 30-year old football and fashion icon from Atlanta, and Turner, the 67-year-old curmudgeon of a coach — there are bound to be some humorous moments.

The reality of the situation lies somewhere between those jokes about fantasy football and being peeved by constant, repetitive questioning.

Newton uncorked a number of deep passes throughout training camp in Spartanburg this summer, including several that traveled at least 45-50 yards in the air. But that came in a controlled environment, without the looming fear of a 300-pound defender slamming you to the turf. Even in that situation, those deep completions only came with any regularity when targeting speedster Curtis Samuel.

And Newton not attempting those deep throws Sunday is different from not completing them. At least twice, Newton double-clutched on deep looks and decided not to throw long, once scrambling and once checking down to McCaffrey.

Newton said Wednesday “of course” he still has the capacity to throw the deep ball, but added that he won’t just do so frivolously.

“If it’s going to hinder us from winning, I don’t want to throw it. But if it’s gonna make us win, oh baby, he better call some doggone deep balls,” he said laughing. “I’m all for it, man. I just can’t stress enough, you can’t just throw the ball into heaven and expect it to be caught. There’s just more to it than that.”

This Thursday against Tampa Bay, all eyes will be trained to Newton’s right arm, and specifically whether it’s firing the deep bombs Panthers fans are accustomed to. If so, then for a week at least, the questions Newton faces should ease up. If not, they’ll intensify tenfold.

Perhaps Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said it best Tuesday when discussing whether Newton still had the ability to hurt his team with a deep pass.

“I don’t want to find out in a game.”

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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