Cam Freaking Newton

Ladies and gentlemen, if he didn’t make his presence clear in Week 1, Cam Newton has fully entered the build­ing. This hasn’t just been an entrance, it’s been an all-out explosion, the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time.

What did we miss here? Kiper, McShay and every other annoying draft expert that started popping on your television screen six months before the draft weren’t sold on this guy. He was supposedly a physical specimen that wouldn’t be a natural fit to a pro-style, pocket passing offense and would be a multi-year project.

Oops. Sure, a collective deep breath is in order because Mr. Newton has been in the NFL for a whopping two weeks, but there are certain things that just can­not be ignored. He looks extraordinarily confident and comfortable for a rookie quarterback, especially someone with all of the expectations, hype and controversy that surround him. He also seems to un­derstand the concept of quarterback lead­ership that you want from your franchise player and the Panthers locker room seems to be fully behind him. Even after this week’s loss, he deflected all attention away from his individual performance and was solely focused on the fact that the Panthers lost. Someone forgot to tell Cam that the Panthers’s chance of winning five games is as good as any freshman’s of getting into the Jug this Saturday, but he’s just crazy enough to believe that the Panthers should win every Sunday.

When I wrote that Cam was the surprise of last week, I noted that you had to take his performance with a grain of salt. His monster game did come against the Arizona Cardinals, whose second­ary has more holes than a block of swiss cheese. So while Cam’s Week 1 stat line (422 yds, 2 pass TDs, 1 rush TD and 1 Int) did nothing short of jump off the page and slap you square in the face, I took it to be somewhat of a fluke and was confident that Cam would be put back in his place this week when the Panthers played the Green Bay Packers. Well, 432 yds, 1 pass TD and 1 rushing TD later (we’ll discuss the three picks in a bit), not to mention him continuing to single-handedly usher Steve Smith back to the land of the living, we find ourselves in a straight-up WTF situation with Cam. In case you forgot, the Packers added some hardware to their collection in February and boast a defense that is easily one of the best in the league.

This historical two-game run has been made all the more bizarre by the com­plete absence of any sort of running game from the Panthers. Remember the days when DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were considered one of the pre­mier backfield tandems in the league? Well, that was phrased in the past tense for a reason. Quite simply, neither has produced anything on the ground this year. This week, Cam was the team’s lead­ing rusher with 53 yards on 10 carries, while the duo posted a hard-fought 18 yards on 11 carries. Defenses know well that the Panthers have to try to air the ball out to have offensive success. Still, Cam’s been able to slice up defenses by patiently going through his reads and us­ing his mobility to escape pressure, then unleashing on-target throws with some serious mustard on them. These traits are not exactly expected at the NFL level right off the bat.

The two major caveats to Cam’s perfor­mances that need to be addressed are the four picks and the fact that the Panthers have lost both games. The interceptions are probably the only sniff of rookieness that he’s provided yet. They’ve mainly come on balls that he’s either overthrown or tried to sneak into tight coverage, things which seemed to be teammate Jim­my Clausen’s calling card last year. Then again, Cam undoubtedly has to feel some pressure to force throws because, again, Williams and Stewart haven’t been in­formed yet that the lockout is over. As for the whole wins thing, did I mention that the Panthers really, really suck? Their two wins last year came against NFC West (aka the CFL’s southern affiliate) oppo­nents that were a combined 11-21. That says it all right there.

So where do we stand now? Is Cam simply going to win a lot of Fantasy Football games and not a lot of real ones? Though the Panthers have been competi­tive, Panthers players can probably safely start booking their tee times for Janu­ary because they certainly won’t still be playing football. It’ll be a while before the Panthers are a legitimate contender again, but Cam is not the developmental project we thought he was and it’s scary to even think what this guy’s ceiling is if he’s this good right now. There’s no way Cam’s going to keep up this freakish sta­tistical pace, but it looks like the Panthers have found a leader and someone to build around. I don’t want to be that guy who overreacts to two games (like every Bills fan I know), but Cam has done a darn good job of addressing all the things peo­ple were skeptical about. One thing is for sure though – things down in Carolina just got a heck of a lot more interesting.

Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected].