Tom Sorensen

Panthers followed NFL axiom: They didn’t improve - and they fell behind

A year ago Cam Newton was considered by some to be the new prototype for his position. He was 6-5 and 245 pounds, and he could move. This season he's considered inaccurate. And he has been. Carolina is a mediocre team and their quarterback is having a mediocre season.
A year ago Cam Newton was considered by some to be the new prototype for his position. He was 6-5 and 245 pounds, and he could move. This season he's considered inaccurate. And he has been. Carolina is a mediocre team and their quarterback is having a mediocre season. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

There are quarterbacks who look as if they were born to throw. Their motion is smooth and true and consistent, and if the ball goes to a place they don't intend it's always a surprise.

Cam Newton is not such a quarterback, and he never will be. He's 27-years-old and he's played six NFL seasons. He's not suddenly going to change his footwork or his motion. He can amend it. That's it.

But Newton was the NFL's MVP in 2015, and he should have been. He led the Carolina Panthers to the league's best record and the Super Bowl. He was markedly more successful last season. Yet his motion and footwork weren't. The Panthers ran better and blocked better, and his passes were more likely to land in the hands of the players to which he threw them.

A year ago Newton was considered by some to be the new prototype for his position. He was 6-5 and 245 pounds, and he could move. This season he's considered inaccurate. And he has been. Carolina is a mediocre team and their quarterback is having a mediocre season.

Some fans insist that the Panthers have underachieved, and if only they won all their close games they'd be in their rightful place near the top of the NFC South. But on what grounds are they supposed to win their close games? Because they did in 2015? Last season feels so long ago that when you look at the tape it ought to be in black and white.

Next season the Panthers presumably will have a better offensive line and another offensive playmaker. But Newton is never going to throw the ball like, say, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers does. And even though, as a concession to age Newton will run less, he still will run. It's what he does.

What Newton's coaches would love is if he ran more like Rodgers. Rodgers runs not to pick up big yards but to enable his receivers to. Newton is savvy enough to roll out, change directions and find a receiver.

Last season was not a mirage. There are lots of ways to win, and Newton and his team high-stepped over convention all the way to the Super Bowl.

To again become that team, the Panthers have to better protect Newton, and they have to add a offensive player who will scare defensive coordinators. There's an axiom in the NFL – if you don't improve, you fall behind. The season has been a testament to that.

Unfortunately, the Panthers are more than a few draft picks away from again becoming one of the league's elite teams. Unless you're New England, and Bill Belichick is your head coach and Tom Brady is your quarterback, success is cyclical. That is, you rely on a core group of players and those players get, say, three seasons together to succeed or fail.

Carolina's time at the top has expired.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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