Did you hear the joke about the NFL's most disrespected QB?
Question: Who’s had a worse season than Cam Newton?
Answer: The NFC South Division.
With all of the overblown criticism and doubt and abuse Killa Cam has endured this season from media, fans and consistent observers of the NFL landscape, you’d think the Panthers were struggling to reach .500.
Actually, they are two games worse than that at 6-8-1, but numbers tend to lie and after the injuries, the losses and the struggles to muster up a consistent offensive attack, Cam “The One Man Band” is one win over the Atlanta Falcons (6-9) this Sunday from hot-stepping into the playoffs as the NFL’s second division champ with a losing record since realignment in 2002.
Two weeks ago Cam was lying on the side of the road being tended to by medics after he was involved in a potentially deadly car crash in which he broke his back in two places. He made a quick recovery and was behind center on Sunday for the Panthers’ 17-13 win against Cleveland. Cam was vintage combo-threat, functioning with patience, controlled-agression and intelligence within Carolina's ball control philosophy.
At halftime, he was 9 of 16 passes for 82 yards and burned 35 more on the ground, including a two-yard TD burst. The win, combined with Atlanta’s 30-14 victory at New Orleans, eliminates the Saints and sets up a Week 17 clash at the Georgia Dome.
The wheels of fate seem to be shifting in Cam’s favor…finally.
The winner of this down-trodden division will have at most seven wins. People will ridicule them and say the division doesn’t deserve to have a team in the playoffs, but at the end of the day you can only play your designated schedule. If you win more games than everyone else in your division then you are crowned the champs.
If Carolina wins, that's back-to-back division titles for Newton, a guy who has been called everything from overrated to increasingly obsolete in conversations about the NFL’s sickest signal callers.
No one will be picking an NFC South squad to win the Super Bowl, but you know Cam is hyped for a crack at the playoffs. The Panthers—who have less offensive weapons than some high school squads—had more lows than highs this season and for a minute it looked like Cam’s game, the season and HC Ron Rivera’s guts were getting lamer by the minute. A recent three-game win streak has them back in business and they can get revenge over the Falcons for a tough 19-17 loss in Week 11, which came in the midst of a treacherous six-game losing streak.
In the Panthers' darkest hours, Newton was at the mercy of a musical chairs offensive line and the defense was giving up close to 35 points per game and still giving reps to played out vets like DB’s Antoine Cason, who was later cut, and Thomas DeCoud, who was benched. It got so heated that wide receiver Jason Avant criticized Rivera’s notoriously conservative offensive mojo and was cut shortly after.
With all of the remodeling and mid-season revamping that Carolina has engineered, the one consistent element is Newton, who lives to lead and does whatever it takes to try and get a win. If he wasn’t the cool, calm and rugged leader he is, then this playoff possibility would have been a pipe dream when the Panthers were five games under .500. and labeled a "body."
Cam always weathers the storm. He takes mega shots, rarely gets to unleash his passing fury like he did when he was a gun-slinging rookie, but he still stays positive after every loss. He’s rarely the reason why the team loses or has the wrong attitude. Newton grasps the art of war and he’s accepted his fate as a QB who may never be able to truly show how great he is because his squad just isn’t talented enough.
The Panthers hierarchy has that NY Knicks front office ideology from the Patrick Ewing era. The Knicks never complemented Ewing with studs and his championship aspirations suffered because of it. The burden was all on Pat.
People marvel at Tom Brady’s success with mediocre weapons, well Cam’s journey with the Panthers has been littered with Superman capes, kryptonite baths, empty cupboards and unwavering faith.
If any QB needs to reacquaint America with his skills and get some shine for being a beast of football player it’s Cam Newton. At the tender age of 25, Newton has over 14,300 yards passing in four seasons. He’s just getting started and every year he learns more about becoming a polished NFL QB. His best years are ahead of him and probably not with the Panthers. He’ll play for a head coach better than Rivera one day too.
For now however, say what you want, but bad QBs with bad teams don’t make the playoffs. If Cam can do his dizzle on Sunday it’s undoubtedly all good in the Carolinas.