By any tangible standard, Cam Newton was outstanding Sunday, but he was still apologizing after the fact.
The Panthers decision to punt the ball away to the Falcons on fourth-and-1 in Falcons territory with the lead in the final minute was created by the fact his apparent first down came back after a fumble which was recovered by a teammate short of a first down.
That overshadowed a day when he combined for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, bouncing back from his worst day as a pro passer last week against the Giants with one of his statistical best.
“In this league, you have to protect the football,” Newton said, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “That was a key focus going into this game. I fumbled. It’s a lot of guys that’s trusting the ball carrier, whoever it is in any case, and I was the ball carrier on that particular play to get the job done. I failed.”
That’s Newton taking the fall for a defense that couldn’t protect a lead even though the punt put the Falcons at their own 1 with no timeouts and less than a minute to play.
A week ago, he was ripped by wide receiver Steve Smith for sulking after he was pulled from the late stages of the Giants loss, but there was no fault in the way Newton played Sunday.
The person who should have apologized, and did, was safety Haruki Nakamura, who allowed the 59-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White which set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal.
“I basically cost us the football game. It’s hard on me because I’m supposed to come in and be a difference-maker,” Nakamura said. “And when you cost the team a football game, especially for how hard we played, its hard to deal with. This team deserves better. Especially giving up stupid plays like I did. Unfortunately, I cost us the game.”