I’m sure Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was joking during his postgame press conference when he rather condescendingly welcomed a suggestion box in the locker room that the media could help him find ways to win.
“I’m going to leave this room and I’m going to bring in a suggestion box,” said Newton to a reporter who asked what had to be done before the Panthers could start exploding on offense and pasting 35 points per game on the scoreboard. “And I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box. Because I sure don’t know. I really don’t."
“I wish I could tell you, but the only thing I control, sweetheart, is myself.”
I’m sure the suggestion box hasn’t been installed yet, but I’m a sucker for those mini pencils that are only good for keeping score on the golf course and filling out comment cards. So I’m going to fill out a comment card on Newton’s passing in the red zone, particularly inside the 10-yard line.
Newton spoke about this earlier in the presser, commenting on the interception he threw against Dallas Sunday as he was hit.
“A prime example,” Newton said of missed opportunities. “An interception thrown in the red zone, it can’t happen. It happened. We’re taking points off the board. If we would have scored, who knows what would have happened.”
From a little farther out than the 6-yard line, the Panthers lined up three wide receivers and had them run differing route depths.
Newton got into trouble with pressure from the Dallas defense and was hit by Josh Brent. The ball was launched in the direction of Newton’s intended receiver, but was well short and picked off in the end zone by rookie Morris Claiborne.
The mistake here wasn’t so much the errant throw because Newton got crushed by Brent. The mistake was throwing the ball at all.
It was 2nd-and-goal and Newton could have taken the sack and had third down from the 13-yard line. He then would have had a play to attempt a touchdown before, if that failed, kicking a field goal.
But the interception took away any chance of points.
The next play to examine happened in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks.
With just under four minutes to play and Carolina down by six points, the Panthers were close to capping a 10-play, 79-yard drive with the ball on the 1-yard line.
Newton rolled out to the right while both tight ends—Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock—ran drag routes through the end zone.
Newton either couldn’t get a pass off because he was being chased, or Olsen—the receiver who ran the closer drag route—wasn’t open, but Newton had to continue to roll out towards the sideline and look for the second tight end Hartsock.
At that point Hartsock found a pocket in the defense and was incredibly wide open. Newton’s pass bounced about three yards in front of Hartsock for what would have been an easy go-ahead touchdown catch.
The throw was terrible and didn’t even give Hartsock a chance to make a miraculous play. Although as wide open as he was, the pass should have been simple.
The last play happened on Carolina’s Thursday-night debacle in Week 3 against the New York Giants.
On 4th-and-goal in the fourth quarter, with the game way out of hand, the Panthers were trying to add points from the 8-yard line.
The play called for Brandon LaFell to run a post to the back of the end zone. LaFell did just that, and Newton watched him the whole time.
Veteran safety Stevie Brown read Newton’s eyes and stayed exactly where he thought Newton’s passing lane would be. Brown guessed correctly and made an easy interception.
There was no way for Newton to sneak the ball to LaFell through Brown, but he threw it anyway.
These are all mistakes that cost the Panthers points—whether seven from a touchdown or three from a field goal—deep in the red zone.
Newton needs to alter his decision-making when the Panthers are deep in opposing territory. Every possession is valuable, but success on trips inside the 20-yard line is one of the big determining factors to how well a team performs.
Newton’s not getting it done right now.