Carolina Panthers

How Shaquil Barrett became Cam Newton’s worst nightmare and put him ‘in a blender’

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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says sometimes he feels trapped in a blender.

Thursday, that blender’s blades belonged to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

For much of the third quarter, Barrett spun, chopped and minced Newton. Barrett’s three sacks — all in the first seven minutes after halftime — set the tone for a 20-14 Bucs victory that leaves the Panthers reeling at 0-2.

Barrett, an outside linebacker who was signed this offseason as a free agent from the Broncos, continuously abused Panthers left tackle Daryl Williams. The Panthers crossed midfield on the first play of the second half, when tight end Greg Olsen turned a short pass from Newton into a 33-yard gain.

The next play, Barrett took down Newton for an eight-yard loss. Facing brutal down-and-distance, Newton threw two consecutive incompletions to force a punt.

What Barrett did next was even more pivotal. Another connection from Newton to Olsen pushed the ball to the Bucs’ 21. What followed were consecutive plays where Barrett sacked Newton for losses of seven and five yards, forcing Carolina to settle for a field goal.

And just as devastating: With Carolina facing fourth-and-1 from Tampa Bay’s 45, trailing 17-14 with 11:45 to play, it was Barrett that came off the edge unblocked to hurry Newton into throwing an errant pass deep over the head of Curtis Samuel.

Dramatic as Barrett’s sacks were, he was reluctant to gloat. He said those sacks were at least as much a function of the secondary’s tight coverage of wide receivers DJ Moore and Samuel as anything he did.

“The coverage worked really good with the rush; we got (Newton) to hold the ball a little bit longer, so I was able to get in,” Barrett described.

“Perfect play-calling. Everything just worked really good today.”

That reference to making Newton hold the ball suggests a trend. Newton has been sacked six times in two games (a pair of losses) at home. Sunday, it was Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler. Thursday, it was Barrett.

“There was no lack of moving the football,” Newton said of his 324 passing yards. “The thing is manufacturing points. We’ve got to reward the defense.”

Barrett would not have appeared atop a Panthers scouting report. His college career started out at Nebraska-Omaha, which dropped the football program when he was a freshman in 2010. He transferred to Colorado State, where he was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, but went unselected in the 2014 draft.

It took a season on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad before Barrett totaled 14 sacks in four seasons and earned his one-year contract with the Bucs. No one saw Barrett as some pass-rush salvation prior to Thursday.

“Shaq? He beat two or three different dudes and you can’t say enough about him,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “He had one (sack Sunday) and I think that’s going to be the type of year he’s going to have.”

Again, Barrett didn’t see those sacks as some singular effort. He said shutting down Carolina’s running game and Christian McCaffrey (just 37 yards on 16 carries Thursday) made the Panthers more predictable for the secondary to contain.

Rather than frame holding the Panthers to 14 points as some revelation, Barrett viewed this as the Bucs’ defense finally living up to potential.

“We’ve got them dogs upfront. We’ve had one of the best defenses ever. We’ve got to play that way,” Barrett said. “Got to limit the run to limit the pass. Lots of pressure on the quarterback.”

Plus, some compelling incentive after the Bucs were thumped at home Sunday by the San Francisco 49ers, 31-17.

“0-2 sucks!” Barrett concluded. “1-1 is not perfect, but we got in the right direction.”

Which doubles down how wrong the Panthers’ direction is so far.