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Monday Morning Optimist, Friday edition: It is too early to bury Cam Newton

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He’s not dead yet!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Listen, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the Carolinas right now, so I’m not going to waste any time blowing them up your anything. Last night was a bad loss for a team coming off of a good one, relatively speaking. Both count the same and hurt all the more for both having been at home. That said, I’m not a fan of all of the doom and gloom coming from the fanbase of a team who took a lot of offseason question marks and translated them into two rough weeks. It is too early to bury the team and it is far too early to bury Cam Newton.

The Carolina Panthers lost an aggressively winnable game last night because of an inconsistent quarterback and a consistently bad offensive line. That doesn’t mean that Newton is washed up. It might mean that Daryl Williams is.

What’s up with Cam’s arm?

Newton was the definition of inconsistent last night. His passes were short, long, wide, and right on target. Figuring out which they would be on a given play was like playing bingo, which is to say that soon-to-be-retired Greg Olsen had unsurprisingly the best night with them.

It is no wonder that Newton’s throws were inaccurate last night. We spent all offseason wondering if he would have the strength to move the ball down the field, but not much time worrying about how limited practice time with a new throwing motion would affect his accuracy.

Most of his Week 1 passes were very short or intermediate passes designed to counter the talented pass rushers of the Los Angeles Rams. Last night was his first real test throwing the ball all over the field, and nobody should be surprised by the mixed results. His timing was off on some throws, his ball placement on others. The only two ducks that I saw seemed attributable to a wet ball on a rainy day. He was tossing bullets into the fourth quarter, he just wasn’t hitting his targets the way he used to.

So, sure, he was inconsistent. That doesn’t mean washed, though he might be. It could just as easily be rust and discomfort. His foot may be healing more than the team will let on. He missed a lot of time this offseason, including the last week of the preseason in practice, and is basically starting from scratch with his mechanics. Inconsistent is a human place for him to be right now and the only reason that is so disheartening to Panthers fans who aren’t operating disingenuously is because we are used to him being Super Man.

I wouldn’t—and won’t— worry unless we see zero progress in the Arizona Cardinals game in Week 3. Against Tampa, Newton proved that he could still do all of the right things. Now he has to prove that he can do them all at the same time, play after play. The team just doesn’t have a lot of time to get him dialed in. NFL seasons are short. But, again, two rough weeks is too few to bury Newton’s season over. I’m still hoping to see that cape again.

Fine, but where are his legs?

Yeah, I got nothing for you on this one.

Take no successful scrambles, add not even a handful of less successful designed runs, and stir an active avoidance of quarterback sneaks in short yardage situations and you have one of two things: a coaching staff that is overthinking the game or a quarterback whose recently injured foot can’t be trusted.

The lack of scrambles can be explained by how effectively the Bucs rushed the passer while still maintaining a disciplined effort to contain him in the pocket. The rest is impossible to decipher. If you care to take Ron Rivera at his word then you believe that there is nothing wrong with Newton’s foot. That only means that Norv Turner made a conscious and intentional mistake with his short yardage playcalling and chose to stick with it to the bitter end. This he did in the face of overwhelming evidence against his decisions and the process by which he made them.

I don’t even hate the play that they called on 4th and 1 at the end of the game. I, like about every person watching, do hate the situation in which it was called. But, if y’all are going to be as generous with Newton as I have suggested and give him at least another week to progress then I suppose we have to do the same with the coaches. Because they are either lying about Newton’s health or they screwed up, and it’s not like they are going anywhere anyway.

Who is Daryl Williams?

This is a question to which we have a definitive answer: Daryl Williams is not a left tackle. That may not be a specific enough answer to fix the Panthers woes on their offensive line, but it is certainly a necessary starting point. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an OK front seven, but they are not the world beaters who should be harassing the still rehabbing Newton at every turn. Williams getting absolutely wrecked by a bunch of journeymen should tell you all you need to know about his future at the left tackle position.

The Panthers offensive line had Newton looking as shell shocked as David Carr for much of the third quarter. Coincidentally, when he was facing the most pressure was also when he was looking the least consistent with his new mechanics. It is possible that there is a connection between the quality of an offense’s line play and the quality of the play of its quarterback.

The bottom line is that the only consistent part of the Panthers offense is the poor quality of their play in the trenches. Whether it was miscommunications against the Rams or getting manhandled by the Buccaneers, this is the other issue to watch against the Arizona Cardinals. Rookie left tackle Greg Little is now out of the concussion protocol. Maybe he can provide a spark to this unit.

But how about that Panthers’ defense?

It took a little bit for Rivera to start dialing up blitzes against Jameis Winston and a surprisingly effective Buccaneer passing game in the first half, but, once he did, the Panthers showed how fast and furious of a unit they can be. The return of Bruce Irvin is set to be a footnote in the career ascendance of Brian Burns. Dontari Poe, lost in the shuffle last season, is having his name called in every game now.

Another dropped pick in this game is also evidence of a unit poised for 2019 greatness. They are in position to create their own turnover luck, it’s just a matter of time before it starts breaking their way. Seriously, who doesn’t think that Luke Kuechly went home last night and bought a JUGGS machine to practice his catches?

For all the doom and gloom surrounding this team because of its offensive woes, credit has to be handed to Rivera and defensive coordinator Eric Washington for successfully revamping a tired 2018 unit into this entertaining 2019 version. If nothing else, they’ll give fans a reason to keep tuning in.

Bless Joey Slye

There may not be a more perfect kicker for the Carolina Panthers than the undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech. He has made five out of six field goals in his first two career games. Three of those were kicks over 50 yards. He seems tailor made to keep a team relevant for 60 minutes even when they won’t commit to playing in the red zone.

So, what’s next?

A break that is appropriately timed for a long, hard look in the mirror for Newton, Rivera, Turner, and Williams, to name a few. Then it’s on to the Arizona Cardinals. If Newton can’t get his rhythm down and his feet right with an extra three days to prepare for a game then he might not get it right all season. If Turner can’t see what was wrong with not sneaking Newton in any short yardage situations—assuming his decision making was actually to blame—then his troubles might be here to stay, too.

Two games is too early to bury a team. The Panthers have had plenty of slow starts. Week 1 is weird. Short weeks before a Thursday night game are always weird. That only sounds like a pack of excuses because it is one. Each and every one of them might also happen to be right. Two games isn’t enough to form educated opinions, but it is enough to form suspicions. The Panthers are now in the unenviable position of having to prove that the world is wrong about them and the only optimism I can give you is that they still have a short window in which to do just that.