Cam Newton walks off the field at the Georgia Dome during the Carolina Panthers' 31-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
As Cam Newton goes, so goes Carolina, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Nor was it a bad thing for much of the Carolina Panthers' Week 6 game in Atlanta.
Cam Newton, the city of Charlotte and all of the Carolinas had high hopes for a solid performance and a successful outcome entering Sunday’s NFC South showdown between the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons.
Newton, the Panthers' quarterback and reigning NFL Rookie of the Month, hoped to play well in his professional debut in his home state of Georgia.
The Panthers hoped to make good on their promise to do more than just play competitively and finally secure a breakthrough win against a quality opponent after coming close but falling short several times this season.
Though the Panthers quarterback played great for the first three quarters of the game, "Super Cam" eventually came back down to Earth and finally played—and even looked—like a rookie late in his team’s 31-17 loss to its NFC South rivals as Newton's shaky performance in clutch situations cost Carolina the chance to beat the Dirty Birds.
Cam Newton scores on a 14-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons.
Cam Newton began the game well and played solidly into the third quarter, leading the Panthers to a pair of touchdowns and a field goal on three of the team's first four offensive possessions. Here is a recap of Newton's performance on each Panthers possession.
1. Newton displayed good pocket presence and scrambling ability early in the game and he seemed to progress through his reads quickly and make smart decisions with the ball. He converted third-down passes to Steve Smith and Legedu Naanee, and he barely missed tight end Greg Olsen on an attempted third-down pass to the end zone as the Panthers settled for an Olindo Mare field goal.
2. Newton found Jeremy Shockey on back-to-back passes for big gains and the Panthers scored on a Jonathan Stewart touchdown run. Newton remained calm in the pocket throughout the drive, showing the ability to check down to various receivers, and he converted another pass to the Panthers' reluctant No. 2 receiver, Naanee.
3. Newton started the game 8-of-11 for 96 yards on his team's first two possessions and drove the Panthers down the field on their third possession before making his first mistake of the game on a tipped pass in the red zone that resulted in a Brent Grimes interception in the end zone. The pass was intended for a wide open Steve Smith. A touchdown would have given Carolina a 17-14 halftime lead, but they trailed 14-10 instead.
4. Newton led another great scoring drive for the Panthers to start the third quarter, resulting in a 14-yard touchdown run by the quarterback.
Cam Newton (1) was intercepted three times against the Atlanta Falcons. The first two may have cost his team the game.
As well as Cam Newton played during the Panthers’ first four offensive possessions, he played just as poorly in his team’s last four times with the ball.
5. After moving the ball up and down the field and converting nearly every third-down opportunity for much of the game—8-of-9 to start the game—the Panthers went three-and-out for the first time on a third-down sack of Newton deep in Panthers territory at 2:32 of the third quarter. The Falcons scored a field goal on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 17.
6. The Panthers went three-and-out again on their next possession as Newton was bothered by increased pressure from the Falcons’ front seven and Carolina found itself punting for the second time of the game and the second time in five plays. This time the Falcons took advantage of the short field for a touchdown and took the lead, 24-17.
7. I wrote in my game notes of the Panthers' seventh possession of the game, "Cam will start the drive down 7 with 7:00 to go. DeAngelo runs for first down to start the drive. Cam screen pass right to defensive lineman Corey Peters. Falcons score. Carolina 17 – Falcons 31." This drive that went nowhere was an opportunity for Newton to lead his team to a game tying or game winning score, a la Tom Brady, but he came up short and for the first time in his rookie season, he blew it.
8. The game was decided before the Panthers' final drive began. Atlanta made a few adjustments to pressure Newton in the second half and the team had too few offensive plays during the key stretch of the game. Newton led the team down the field in the last two minutes of the game as Atlanta played prevent defense and he ended the game by throwing his third interception of the day, a floater into the end zone.
Newton never really looked downfield the entire game and he only surpassed 200 yards in the air thanks to a soft Falcons defense on the game's final possession.
Newton's counterpart, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, played well when it counted, Newton played well early.
Newton looked tired, exhausted and beaten at the game's end.
The Panthers are 1-5.
The Falcons' Brent Grimes (20) outjumps Caroliina Panther Steve Smith (89) to intercept Cam Newton's attempted touchdown pass in the second quarter of Sunday's game.
Newton threw three interceptions against the Falcons on Sunday, tying the season- and career-high mark he set against Green Bay in Week 2.
1. Newton’s first interception came late in the first half on a 1st-and-goal end zone pass intended for Steve Smith. Atlanta’s William Moore tipped the ball as he followed Olsen across the field and reached back as the ball zipped behind his head, deflecting the football into the hands of Brent Grimes, who was trailing a wide open Smith in the end zone.
With a chance to enter the half with a 17-14 lead, the Panthers instead trailed 14-10.
2. Newton threw his second crucial interception of the game with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when, down 24-17, he intended a screen pass for DeAngelo Williams, but instead tossed into the outstretched arms of Falcons defensive lineman Corey Peters.
Admittedly, Peters made an extremely athletic play to intercept the pass, but Newton did not seem to see the big man in line with his target and threw an ill-advised pass on the second play of his team's most important offensive possession of the game.
3. Newton’s final interception came on the last play of the game when he sailed a flip pass into the end zone that landed in the arms of Thomas DeCoud. The Panthers were down by 14 at this time, so Newton's final interception had no impact on the game other than to affect the final stats.
Atlanta's Corey Peters picks off a screen pass intended for the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams (34).
In order to not be completely subjective or objective, I graded Newton's performance based on the following eight criteria and I attempted to take his entire performance into account instead of focusing solely on his performance late in the game.
Newton (21-35, 237 yards, zero touchdowns) completed 60.0 percent of his passes in Sunday's game against the Falcons. He threw the ball pretty accurately except when he threw interceptions, and they were more the result of unawareness than inaccuracy. Most of Newton's successful throws were underneath routes to his tight ends and receivers, though, and he rarely looked very far downfield. I was disappointed he did not attempt any of his patented deep passes to Steve Smith, which Panthers fans have become accustomed to seeing.
Moving the chains
The Panthers moved the ball well for the first three quarters and they had as many first downs (24) as the Falcons, but most of their yardage came on lengthy drives in the first three quarters before they hit a second-half lull. The Panthers went three-and-out on consecutive possessions, followed by a first-down run by Williams and a Newton interception pass to defensive lineman Corey Peters on consecutive plays.
When your team turns the ball over more than your opponent in the NFL, you tend to lose games. And when your quarterback tosses three interceptions while the other team takes care of the ball, winning becomes an extremely difficult task. Unfortunately for the Newton and the Panthers, that is exactly what took place today.
Newton had one of his best rushing games of the season with eight carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also avoided several sacks and saved countless yards by slipping out of the grasp of John Abraham and other Falcons defenders on multiple occasions while helping the Panthers convert eight of their first nine third-down opportunities into first downs.
The turning point of the game actually took place before Newton's second interception when the Falcons finally sacked and pressured Newton on consecutive Panthers three-and-out possessions, giving Atlanta a short field each time and turning a 17-14 Carolina lead into a 24-17 Carolina deficit.
Carolina scored only 17 points, more than six below its season average of 23.2 entering the game, despite gaining a respectable 368 yards of total offense. They were outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter, which is when games are won or lost.
Newton protected the ball and made smart decisions through the game, except when he didn't. It was shocking to watch the quarterback and his team fall so precipitously in a span of eight Carolina offensive plays, which began with that same 17-14 Panthers lead and ended with the final score. Panthers 17, Falcons 31.
This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Newton's Week 6 performance against the Atlanta Falcons. Newton put the team on his back and moved them down the field early in the game, but his first-half interception in the end zone, the team's consecutive second-half three-and-outs deep in its own territory and his fourth-quarter interception pass at midfield were failures at key moments of the game.
The Panthers played well for three quarters and hung in against the Falcons just like they've done against every opponent so far this season. And like they have against every opponent except the Jacksonville Jaguars, they came up short. The disappointing fact is that Carolina looked like the better team for much of the first three quarters, but it was thoroughly outplayed and outscored (17-0) in the fourth quarter.
My high school coaches taught me that champions are made in the fourth quarter.
Can Newton awaits the final grade on his Week 6 report card.
Cam Newton's final grade reflects a precipitous fall in his performance and the team's production from his first four possessions in which he projected as high as a B+ and his final four possessions, which resulted in a pair of three-and-outs, a pair of interceptions and zero points.
In the first half and the Panthers' opening drive of the second half, Newton protected the ball, moved well in the pocket, converted third downs and controlled the game with both his legs and his arms.
However, after scoring his only touchdown of the day on a 14-yard run, he failed to produce another positive result aside from a few meaningless first-down completions late in the fourth quarter once the outcome of the game was already decided.
Newton showed sustained flashes of talent, poise and composure for much of this game against the Atlanta Falcons, but he also showed evidence of being—and playing like—a rookie for one of the first times this season. Despite the 1-5 record, this is the first loss that can fall largely on the shoulders of the Panthers' rookie quarterback.
With the Panthers now effectively out of the playoff race and sitting at the bottom of the NFC standings, their biggest task, and Newton's, will be to learn how to play well for four quarters and to learn how to win.
Final Grade: C-