Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
An up-and-down season didn't lead to a sophomore slump, but rather Cam Newton playing the best football of his young career.
As the 2012 season came to a close, there was disappointment and missed opportunities. Ultimately finishing 7-9, today we start our look back at the year that was -- and grade the players that made up the Carolina Panthers' quarterback position.
On grading: Throughout the reviews we will be giving a letter grade to a player's performance based on their role on the team in 2012. Expectation is factored into this, as well as performance. This could mean that a role player who had an amazing season ultimately gets a higher grade than a starter who played well. This isn't a binary 'Player X > Player Y', but rather an understanding to look inside a player's role on a team, and whether they executed it well.
The bar was set impossibly high for Cam Newton entering his second year in the NFL. The term 'sophomore slump' was an over-simplification bandied about by those who realized that reaching those record-breaking numbers again would be near impossible. Often attributed to defenses 'working out' a player's ability, this wasn't the case for Newton early-season. It's hard to know where the blame truly lies -- but we do know that 2012 was a Jekyll and Hyde season for #1.
Newton's first eight games
Passing: 1,902 yards, 57.7% completion, 6 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
Rushing: 58 carries, 347 yards (5.9 YPC), 4 touchdowns
In the first half of the season Cam Newton looked out of sorts -- there's no other way to put it. The huge strides we saw him make as a quarterback from Auburn to the NFL all eroded, seemingly overnight. The numbers aren't bad, and in looking solely at a gamelog, you might be tempted to believe his season was more even than it was.
The most lacking element to Newton's game was his confidence. Whether it was the immense pressure that got to Cam, or the rapid addition of an overly-complicated playbook, he was a shadow of his former self. One of Newton's best attributes is his rookie year was the trust he showed in Steve Smith. While Smitty got his yards, many were left on the field because Cam either failed to see him, or wasn't comfortable pressing the coverage.
What made this so strange is that on other occasions he would force passes -- often into utterly insane coverage. Trying to do too much resulted in an interception each game, and as a result the team faltered. By no means was it all Cam's fault, but he deserved some of the blame for the 2-6 start.
Newton's final eight games
Passing: 1,967 yards, 58.4% completion, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Rushing: 68 carried, 394 yards (5.8 YPC), 4 touchdowns
As bad as Cam Newton was to start the season, he was everything and more in the final eight games. This is a case where the numbers don't do justice to how well he played. More than the passing yards or touchdowns was the leadership -- something we haven't always seen from the second-year quarterback. At times he's been surly, or petulant, but in those final eight games Newton was everything to the Panthers.
It didn't hurt that the mad-capped offense was put in check, or that the running backs were utilized more -- but Cam was having fun again, and it showed. He's an unconventional quarterback, more jazz than classical, who is best when he skews away from a strict game plan, and allowed to exert his will on a game. Look no further than the success that Newton had when he was finally allowed to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage -- when a small amount of the play calling was wrestled from Rob Chudzinski.
One could write all day on just how good Cam Newton was in those final eight games, but the record speaks for itself. Finishing 5-3 down the stretch may not be awe inspiring, but it represented an important hump for the team to get over, not just in finding ways to win, but how they won.
It's hard to really evaluate Cam Newton's season without understanding the moving parts behind it. Was it all his fault for the team's abysmal start? No. Were all the successes late-season because of Cam? Also, no.
Like all things the truth falls somewhere in the middle. Coaching let him down early in the year, but also assisted him in those final games. As bad as the Panthers' start to 2012 was, the monumental gains towards the end of the season helped make up for them. It wasn't enough to get Carolina to the post-season, but showed a vital next step in Cam Newton's development as a quarterback.
He might be taking his seriousness to a new city in 2013, but as the Carolina Panthers' backup Derek Anderson was everything you could ask out of a bench-warmer. He helped Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen look at film, was as active on the sideline as Mike Shula, and overall did everything you'd want a veteran QB to do -- all quietly.
While Anderson wasn't needed much in 2012, he completed all four of his attempted passes en route to a 118.8 QB rating. That's nothing to write home about, but what's important is that he was great when needed. It appears that DA already has his mind made up and will join Chud in Cleveland. While I think that's bad form, especially before free agency -- nothing can really be done. The Panthers will need a new backup QB in 2013, and Anderson wont be simple to replace.
The much maligned QB from 2010 is still unfairly blamed for the Panthers' 2-14 season. As much as we all poke fun, kudos to Jimmy for handling his rapid demotion quietly. At this point he's just playing out his contract, and will get a shot somewhere else. If Brady Quinn can find a new home, so can Jimmy Clausen.
It's impossible to grade him, so why try. Jimmy will probably get a shot to compete for the backup job. He hasn't been terrible in the preseason under Ron Rivera -- so time will tell.