In all of Cam Newton’s success and record-breaking heroics during his rookie campaign last year, he still threw 17 interceptions. By his own accord, 2012 started with the same issues, and those miscues cost Carolina the game Sunday as the Panthers lost in Tampa Bay, 16-10.
"Without any of those interceptions, I think we find a way to win this football game," Newton said in an Associated Press report. "I feel as if that was the difference in the game."
Newton tossed two interceptions Sunday and was sacked three times.
Newton threw for 303 yards and completed just under 70 percent of his passes, a sign of second-year growth from a passer that completed just 60 percent of his passes as a rookie.
According to Pro Football Focus ($$), Newton wasn’t under a terrible amount of pressure. Of his 38 dropbacks the Buccaneers only pressured him nine times. He went 2-for-4, took three sacks and threw one of his interceptions while under pressure.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he said in his post-game press conference. “No one likes losing. The most frustrating part on my behalf is knowing I wish I could have those two throws back.”
The two throws were third-quarter interceptions that Newton tried to thread into traffic.
On the first you see that the play-action fake established a decent pocket for Newton, and he had time to go through his reads.
Then the pocket started to collapse. The safe play would have been to step up and hit running back DeAngelo Williams, his check-down option. Newton decided, instead, to throw into traffic towards Brandon LaFell.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, and maybe he got there too early, made contact with LaFell and the ball and popped it into the air. Safety Ronde Barber picked the ball out of the air and returned it 24 yards.
The Panthers were down by six points and had just scored on their last drive. Momentum was headed in Carolina’s direction, but was abruptly stopped.
On Carolina’s next drive Newton was in the midst of putting together another drive. He was five plays into the possession when he tried to find Steve Smith down the left sideline.
Newton had a decent pocket on this pass but last-second pressure came up the middle and burst through the line.
Smith was in single coverage on the sideline, which is usually a good sign for the Panthers. Newton’s pass, however, took too long to get to Smith and was a bit off target, allowing safety Ahmad Black to cover ground all the way from the hash mark to the sideline to pick off the pass.
Over the last two possessions Newton had attempted three passes and thrown two interceptions. He felt the second pick was worse.
“I think the second one was more disgusting,” Newton said.
By no means does Sunday’s loss fall squarely and solely on the shoulders of Newton. Carolina had trouble running the ball, had many issues on the offensive line and gave up 95 yards rushing to Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin.
But both of Newton’s interceptions could have had different results, and that is on Newton. Newton has all the talent in the world to improve upon his rookie season, but to become truly elite and have a shot at dragging his team into the playoffs, Newton must maintain control of the ball better.