The honeymoon period appears to be well and truly over for Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton.
With his team trailing 17-7, P.J. Walker replaced Newton in the second quarter of Sunday's 29-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The three-time Pro Bowler opened 6-of-11 for 88 yards and one interception.
Newton returned to the game to open the second half and finished 15-of-23 for 178 yards and the one interception. He also ran for 47 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries and fumbled the ball twice.
Head coach Matt Rhule reaffirmed his status as the starting quarterback but added an important condition:
Newton got Carolina on the board in the first quarter with a 12-yard touchdown run but gave the score right back in the second quarter after throwing a pick-six to Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker.
🚨 PICK-6 🚨 <a href="https://twitter.com/MykalWalker3?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MykalWalker3</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DirtyBirds?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DirtyBirds</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ATLvsCAR?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ATLvsCAR</a> on FOX<br>📱: NFL app <a href="https://t.co/IwHBgSonfd">pic.twitter.com/IwHBgSonfd</a>
The quick hook may have partially been a result of Newton's disastrous showing in Week 12, too. He went 5-of-21 for 92 yards and two interceptions in a 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The Charlotte Observer's Jonathan M. Alexander also explained how Rhule laid out a plan to rotate between quarterbacks:
Walker demonstrated the folly of that strategy by throwing an interception on his third play after replacing Newton. Cycling through two struggling passers isn't much of a solution.
Newton's return to the Panthers couldn't have gone much better as he scored touchdowns on each of his first two touches in his first game back with the team. He followed that with a strong showing (189 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) in a Week 11 loss to the Washington Football Team.
But opponents seem to have recalibrated their schemes to account for Newton's presence in Carolina's offense.
Once Sam Darnold went down with a shoulder injury, signing Newton made sense. He was the most decorated QB in free agency, and his arrival excited the fanbase. The more he plays, however, the less it looks like he'll be able to recapture the form that led him to win an MVP in 2015.