The Panthers may be just 1-5 since Cam Newton returned to the team, but the veteran quarterback is still confident that the team is better than they have shown in recent weeks.
Newton expressed his feelings following Carolina’s 32-6 blowout loss against the Buccaneers in Week 16. The Panthers were showered with boos throughout that contest, as coach Matt Rhule rotated Newton and Sam Darnold in at the quarterback position only to see the offense sputter with both on the field. The performance was bad enough that the crowd erupted in a “fire Matt Rhule” chant late in the contest.
But Newton believes that the criticism of Rhule is unwarranted, and he isn’t willing to blame the Panthers’ coach for the team’s recent struggles.
“Coach Rhule is a great coach,” Newton said during a postgame news conference, per ESPN. “Last thing I checked, Coach Rhule wasn’t out there playing.”
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Newton went on to explain that the Panthers have shown well at practice during his six weeks with the team. Things haven’t translated to on-field success, but he believes that the players need to be the catalysts to make that happen.
“I just know we’re a good football team,” Newton said. “It may not look like that all the time, but I know what I see in practice and I know what I’ve seen over these last couple of weeks — we’re a good football team and we can win. It’s just about us believing we can win and not taking the easy route and be able to grunt games away.”
The Panthers proved that they could win earlier in the season. They began the year with a 3-0 record and were viewed as a sleeper darling. However, since then, Carolina has gone just 2-10 and has watched itself fall out of the playoff race.
Part of the team’s problem has been the quarterbacking. Newton, Darnold and P.J. Walker have all struggled to keep the Panthers’ offense on schedule, and the rotation at the quarterback position has drawn immense scrutiny. Even Rhule admitted that it was harder for Newton and Darnold to build rhythm while coming in and out, though he also defended the decision as an opportunity to evaluate the team’s quarterback options for 2022.
“I understand completely why people are like, ‘Why are we going back and forth between those two guys?'” Rhule said after the game. “It’s a targeted decision that I understand is not popular, but it feels like it’s what’s best for the Carolina Panthers right now.”
Newton doesn’t entirely agree with that, as he’s not a fan of the two-quarterback system. Still, he wasn’t willing to blame that decision or other coaching choices for the team’s 26-point loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday. He thinks that the players need to play not only better but harder to return to their winning ways.
“I can tell you right now it wasn’t because of the coaching,” Newton said when discussing the Panthers’ defeat. “It wasn’t because of what a person may have said or done. The truth of the matter is, we’re all playing for jobs.
“If you don’t think as a coach you wouldn’t do the right things to win and build your tenure here, you wouldn’t do it.”
Much of Rhule’s postgame news conference focused on building things the right way long-term in Carolina. It sounds like Newton is buying into that.
But will the Panthers return the favor? That seems unlikely given that Newton, 32, is set to be a free agent and hasn’t performed well enough to inspire confidence as a starter or top backup in his five starts with the team.