After three straight seasons as the NFC South champion and a trip to the Super Bowl last year, the Carolina Panthers will complete their 2016 NFL campaign against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, headed toward a finish in the division cellar and, in the words of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, a “sabbatical.”
“Disappointed, but there is hope for the future,” Newton said of the Panthers’ season. “We had a long run. It’s time for guys to take a sabbatical, so to speak, and just get away from it.”
Carolina’s drop from a 15-1 record in 2015 to the 6-10 or 7-9 mark the Panthers will have to show for 2016 could be pinned on many factors – a young secondary, injuries to key players such as linebacker Luke Kuechly and left offensive tackle Michael Oher, the play of the offensive line and the reduced production of Carolina’s running game.
But as he was first in the spotlight when leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl and earning the NFL MVP Award last year, Newton is No. 1 in the what-went-wrong analysis, too.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re going to look at,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “We understand and we get that. There’s some things that have to evolve around him because he’s evolving as a quarterback as well. He’s getting older, and he’s going to be a different style player. We know that much.”
Critics of Newton’s performance this season might ask if he’s evolving or devolving based on his 2016 statistics.
Last season, Newton completed 296-of-495 passes for 3,837 yards with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This season, Newton has completed 252-of-478 passes for 3,272 yards with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Newton is heading toward the worst passer rating of the six seasons since Carolina selected him out of Auburn with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Only three of the 30 quarterbacks who have passed for at least 2,000 yards this season have a rating worse than Newton’s 77.5. And all three – Case Keenum of the Los Angeles Rams, Brock Osweiler of the Houston Texans and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets – have been benched (although Fitzpatrick is back on the field after two other QBs got hurt).
Newton has completed 52.7 percent of his passes, the worst rate of his career and the worst in the NFL among the 39 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 times this season. Last season, Newton completed 59.8 percent of his passes.
Newton broke NFL career records for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and most games with rushing and passing TDs this season. But Newton is going to finish the 2016 season with career lows in rushing attempts, rushing yards and yards per carry.
SOURCE: Mark Inabinett