Tom Sorensen

Panthers are 2-1, but maybe it’s time for a big change. Here’s a thought ...

The Carolina Panthers have won two of the three games they’ve played. Only four other times in franchise history have they started 2-1, and in two of those seasons, they made the playoffs. In 2014 the NFC South gifted them a playoff berth. The Panthers finished 7-8-1 and still got in. Somebody had to represent the NFC South. Head coach Ron Rivera got everything out of that team that he could.

The Panthers began 2-1 in 1997, 2007 and 2008. In ’97 and ’07, they finished 7-9. In ’08, the Panthers finished 12-4. The season ended abruptly, however, when in a divisional playoff game they lost by 20 to the Arizona Cardinals.

Many of us were, and are, excited about Carolina’s shiny new parts. But the offense’s infrastructure – blocking, running, passing – has yet to come together.

We’ve seen quarterback Cam Newton overthrow receivers before, but never as blatantly as the first three games of this season. If Newton’s receivers were as big as 6-11 Dwight Howard, the Charlotte Hornets’ new center, Newton’s completion percentage would hover in the 80s.

The best work Newton did in Sunday’s home loss to the New Orleans Saints was with his feet. His passing this season has been consistently inconsistent. He’s getting banged round behind an offensive line that played so well in the opener against the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe his shoulder hasn’t recovered from off season surgery. Maybe he has not had time to work with his new running back or receivers. He has thrown four interceptions and two touchdown passes. Maybe he has lost his way.

Newton, 28, is the more polarizing athlete Charlotte has ever had. If you criticize him, his defenders quickly blame the Panthers for not giving him a better offensive line and receivers.

If you praise Newton, his detractors immediately charge you with not having the guts to write – what? I still think about his MVP season way back in 2015. He was considered the the prototype for the new quarterback. He could run and throw and break tackles. He could lead.

The quarterback we see this season is not the quarterback we saw in ’15. If Carolina coach Ron Rivera believes that Newton is on the verge of being the player he was two seasons ago, by all means play him.

If he’s not, get him out of there. Newton’s confidence in his arm is absolute, which is one reason he holds the ball so long. Because he does, he will be hammered, and a sore shoulder could become sorer.

If the Panthers believe Newton needs more time to recover, then what? Joe Webb, the third-team quarterback whom the Panthers cut, had a strong preseason. The longer he’s gone (he plays for the Buffalo Bills) the more his legend will grow.

Derek Anderson is Newton’s backup. At 34, Anderson struggled in the preseason. I thought the Panthers would bring another quarterback in, a quarterback who runs like Newton and has NFL experience. No names come to mind.

When called upon in the past, Anderson’s work has ranged from all right to decent to pretty good. But the offense is designed for a strong-armed quarterback willing and able to move. That’s not Anderson, just as accurate passing has so far this season not been Newton.

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

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