Cam Newton’s sitting at home now, recovering from yesterday’s surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.
But in December, he was playing out the string for a 5-8 team, while a high-profile teammate who had been cleared by doctors was a healthy scratch.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera defended his decision to let Newton play out the string after his initial shoulder injury against the Chargers in Week 14, even after he made linebacker Luke Kuechly inactive for meaningless games after he had been cleared from a concussion.
“I don’t think I need to reconcile that much, because they’re two different athletes, two different injuries, two different sets of circumstances more than anything else,” Rivera said this week at the owners meetings. “The biggest thing more than anything else was listening to what the doctors told us, is the reason we did what we did.”
Rivera’s concern for Kuechly after a concussion that left the former defensive player of the year in tears is fine, bordering on noble. But continuing to play Newton after the Panthers were well out of contention seems dubious now, with Newton’s return to throwing pushing perilously close to the start of training camp.
Asked if he’d have done it differently, Rivera said: “Well, I know it’s 20-20. To make that call now is unfair.” He also defended Newton’s play the following week, when he threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Washington. That was one of just two games last year in which Newton had a passer rating higher than 100 (the other being against the 49ers).
On the whole, the former MVP’s season was a disaster, with Newton registering career lows in passer rating (75.8) and completion percentage (52.9). Now, he’s going to spend the offseason rehabbing, instead of taking care of some of the work that clearly needed to be done.
But Rivera said that in looking back at the season, the injuries along the Panthers offensive line were the biggest factor, shifting some of the blame away from Newton himself.
“As much as it was one of his worst seasons, there were other circumstances that we have to correct as well,” Rivera said. “Not completely revolving around the quarterback, but different aspects of what we do on the offensive side. from what we do schematically, to specific positions, specific injuries at those positions and development of specific players. . . .
“He’s going to have to rebuild his confidence. It was shook. Let’s be honest. I’m not going to lie about that. The young man went through a tough time, and we went through a tough time. Why? Because of the injuries that we incurred on the offensive line. That was probably the biggest thing. And again I think it just kind of shows even more the importance and significance of being able to protect your quarterback.”
The Panthers have taken one big step, signing left tackle Matt Kalil, which will allow Michael Oher to play on the right if he returns as they expect. They already had a solid middle of the line, so their hope is that as Newton heals, many of their problems solve themselves.