Welcome back, Cameron Jerrell Newton.
“I’M BAAAAAAACK” pic.twitter.com/0hKHgrEzSC
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 14, 2021
Cam Newton went from the couch to the end zone (twice) Sunday, leading the same Carolina Panthers franchise that discarded him nearly 20 months ago to a blowout road victory over an Arizona Cardinals team sporting the league’s best record (at the time).
My first thought was ‘good for Cam.’
As I said in this week’s NFL Recap, the NFL is better with Cam Newton in it, and it appears Carolina head coach Matt Rhule agrees since he’s all but named Newton the starter when the Panthers host Washington in Week 11.
My second thought was, ‘Damn … Washington could use some of that.’
The spark Cam gave the Panthers Sunday is what Washington was looking to get from Taylor Heinicke — and never really did. I give Heinicke his props for playing what may have been his best game in Burgundy and Gold in a stunning win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers — the team that basically put him on the map in a January playoff loss.
If Heinicke consistently played like he has against Tampa Bay, he’d be the unquestioned future of the franchise at QB.
But he hasn’t. And though his moxie is commendable, Heinicke demonstrated he’s nothing more than a solid backup quarterback.
Newton has been a playmaker throughout his career. And for a team that struggles in the red zone like Washington has — the Burgundy and Gold’s 45.16% red zone touchdown percentage is second worst in the NFL — a goal line threat like Cam is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Plus, Cam’s leadership has always been underrated. He was annually voted a team captain, both in Carolina and his one year in New England, and already demonstrated command of the team Sunday even though he’s still one of its newest members.
— Will Kunkel (@WillKunkelFOX) November 14, 2021
Yet Washington head coach Ron Rivera has twice passed on bringing in his first draft pick as head coach in Carolina, who just happens to have MVP pedigree and plays the very position that’s been a revolving door since (and before) his arrival. At a bare minimum, Cam would have made Washington a fun, compelling watch on a national stage. There’s literally no downside to signing a cheap, hungry and healthy Newton.
Could Cam get hurt here? Sure, especially given he’d play home games in the cursed deathtrap that is FedEx Field. But for all the reasons I laid out in September, he would be a great fit on a team that desperately needs his swagger and playmaking ability — now more than ever because of the Chase Young injury.
Instead of Newton and Rivera riding into Carolina in search of payback, they’ll be on opposite sidelines dueling in a game likely to prove important to the NFC Wild Card picture. Washington is no stranger to turning a 3-6 start into a playoff berth but if history is to repeat itself, it has to start with a win over a 5-5 Panthers team that currently occupies the seventh and final wild card spot in the conference.
Carolina boasts a defense ranked second in total yardage and sixth in points allowed. Even with all-purpose running back Christian McCaffrey in and out of the Panthers lineup, that rushing offense ranks in the top half of the league (one spot ahead of 14th place Washington). Cam doesn’t have to be Superman in this go-round — just being Clark Kent should be enough to win games. That same recipe could have worked in Washington, even with the defense underachieving.
Again, kudos to Heinicke and Washington for getting off the schneid and pulling off by far the biggest upset of Week 10.
But it’s hard to see that victory as more than a brief reprieve from the overall misery of 2021, while Carolina looks poised to steal not only Sunday’s matchup with Washington, but also an NFC wild card the Burgundy and Gold might have otherwise claimed had they signed Cam when they had the chance.
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