Cam Newton’s road back to ‘Superman’ good for Patriots

Cam Newton was always destined to be a great quarterback in the NFL. In his prime, Newton was considered to be arguably the most physically intimidating person to ever take a snap under center, possessing the body of a linebacker that had the ability to sling passes downfield while he could use his legs and running back speed to extend plays or scramble for big gains.

Is he still that guy? The jury is still out deliberating on that. Newton believes his physicality as a runner gives him the edge against defenders. That still makes him an unstoppable force to reckon with.

“Just be the hammer, not the nail,” Newton said after rushing for two touchdowns and passing for a score in the Patriots’ 45-0 Week 13 win against the Los Angeles Chargers. “God has blessed me with the stature that I have and anytime that I have an opportunity to create some type of force or momentum, then I’m going to do it. But at the same time, I have to be cognizant of the position that I play and when I need to get down I have to get down.”

Newton’s dual-threat ability is what makes him an asset to any team he’s played for and a nightmare for defenses who are on the opposite side of him. 

“To me, Cam is one of the three or four — if not the hardest — guys to defend in the league,” former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner told ESPN in 2018. “Coaches spend extra time when they play against Cam Newton because he can beat you in so many different ways.”

In his lone season with Auburn, he led the Tigers to a national championship while also taking home the Heisman Trophy. He declared for the 2011 NFL Draft and was selected first overall by Carolina. It became evident that Newton would take the league by storm from his first game in a Panther uniform, where Newton became the first rookie quarterback to throw for over 400 yards in his first career game.

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Later that season, he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Newton led the Panthers to a playoff appearance in 2013 but was bounced out in the NFC Divisional Round by the San Francisco 49ers. 

Newton saw his biggest success in 2015 when his work got the team a 15-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl 50, completing 59.8% of his passes for 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions (99.4 passer rating) while rushing for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns. This all climaxed by being named the regular-season MVP, the only Carolina Panther to win the award.  However, the team did not win in the Super Bowl. 

For the team in general, they saw little fame after appearing in the Super Bowl. They missed the postseason the following year and barely made it into the 2017 wild card game where they were eliminated by the New Orleans Saints, their NFC South rivals.

The 2018 season brought good fortunes for Newton and the Panthers as they started out strong with a 6-2 record. It was not until Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when the decline of Newton’s career began. 

Linebacker T.J. Watt gave Newton a big hit in the first quarter of the game. It was later determined that Newton suffered a shoulder injury that affected him for the rest of the year. He couldn’t make the downfield throws that he used to make with ease. Because “Super Cam” was softened by his impactful “Kryptonite” injury. The Panthers finished with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs.

The former MVP was looking forward to a return to the field in 2019 in order to superman punch the naysayers who doubted his ability to play in his top form. Unfortunately, Newton got injured again early in the 2019 season. This time hurting his foot, making it impossible for him to utilize his agility. 

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After some time, the team announced Newton would be put on the injured reserve list.

With the team letting go of head coach Ron Rivera, who had been with the Panthers for nine years, this was a sign of what was coming for Newton, who needed surgery to fix his foot injury. Rivera’s departure pretty much closed the chapter on Newton’s career in Carolina.  It was over. The Panthers parted ways with their longtime quarterback in March.  

“Cam has meant a lot to this organization and the Carolinas,” general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement. “He’s the ultimate competitor and it physically hurts him to lose. He willed this team to victory on many occasions and will always be considered one of the greatest players in the history of this franchise. His contributions to this team, this community and the game of football will leave a lasting impact on our organization.”

The downfall of his time with Carolina was not just the icing on the cake. Although the team’s statement sounds as if the two parties had an agreement for his release, all was not right as Newton took to social media to say he did not request to leave.

“I never asked for it,” Newton said on Twitter. “Please do not try and play me or manipulate the narrative and act like I wanted this; you forced me into this.”

The man that used to be super had now ended up in Foxborough, Massachusetts where he is now under the playing management of one of the best coaches in NFL history, Bill Belichick. The deal with the New England Patriots was a one-year contract that is all incentive-based.

A low-risk contract with a potential high reward if he returns to form,” Jay Glazer said via The Athletic. “How many times have we seen veterans who seemed to be on their last legs go to the Patriots and then shine again? Bill Belichick has reignited the careers of many and it would not be surprising if he does it again with Newton.”

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Belichick has been known to maximize a player’s skill set in any way that he can. It’s what has made him a well-respected coach among the players that have played for or against him. The post-Brady era in New England would start with Newton at Belichick’s disposal, and it was expected that he would allow Newton to run the ball often as he’s been so successful doing so during his time in the NFL.

Before his Patriots would take the field against the Los Angeles Rams in a Thursday Night Football matchup, Newton had completed 66.7% of passes for 2,053yards, five touchdowns to nine interceptions (80.3 passer rating) while rushing for 435 yards and 11 more scores. Even with Newton playing better of late, the Patriots are still a team that sits in third place in the AFC East at 6-6. However, Belichick is in no rush to move on from Newton.

Newton gives the Patriots the best chance to win. This is all a new chapter for Newton. When he slipped past the first wave of free agency and remained unsigned by summer, Belichick and the Pats saw that as a beneficial opportunity for both parties. Belichick got a former NFL MVP to compete for the starting job at a fraction of the quarterback cost while Newton has a chance to revitalize his career under a coach who will gameplan around his strong suits to set him up for success.

Newton has the team in the hunt for one of the wild card spots and has helped lead the team to four wins in the last five games, including a victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

In the Week 12 matchup, Newton’s biggest positive contribution was a 14-yard rush on third-and-13 on the Patriots game-winning drive. Aside from that, he was plagued with inaccuracy, which led to a pair of interceptions. Immediately after the game with Arizona, Belichick gave a stern answer when he was asked if he’d stick with Newton after his poor performance.

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“We just kind of keep working to get better,” Belichick said. “Cam threw for 350 last week. The most important thing is we made the plays we needed to make to win. That’s what the goal will be every week.”

All Newton really wanted was to go to a team that would give him a chance to show he still has a lot left in his tank. His short-term deal with the Patriots allows him to perform for a more lucrative payday next season. And maybe it could be the start of a bigger plan that brings Newton back to the level he once was: being known as a fearsome offensive dual-threat quarterback who has the talent and work ethic to get to the Super Bowl. But for now, Newton focuses on his small goals at the moment. 

“My main focus is just trying to win games for the New England Patriots,” Newton said.

Editor’s note: Reporter Robert Rios contributed to this story

Featured image: The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Charger, 45-0, on Sunday at SoFi Stadium. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a score in the victory. The photo appears courtesy of the Los Angeles Chargers

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