Panthers nation has been in a constant panic this week.
First, it was another disconcerting press conference for their franchise quarterback, Cam Newton, after the Panthers suffered their fourth consecutive loss against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
Then, Monday, things became even more hectic when Marty Hurney was abruptly fired less than halfway through his 11th season as general manager.
Before we all begin to hyperventilate, let's think back two years to the 2-14 season where the team finished dead last in almost every offensive category. At that point, every Panthers fan knew that the transformation from a doormat into a perennial playoff contender would not happen overnight. This became abundantly clear when the team used the first overall pick in the 2011 draft on Newton, who was labeled by most as a raw project with tremendous upside. Consequently, Carolina fans tempered their expectations heading into last season as Newton earned valuable experience and learned how to play in the NFL.
Newton's incredible rookie accomplishments have been forgotten like a Las Vegas bachelor party, and all the attention is on the Panthers' continued struggles to win football games in 2012.
Ron Rivera's team has lost five of their first six games and Newton has played poorly in four, including last Sunday's disappointing 19-14 defeat.
Cam’s post-game press conferences have been just as frustrating as his play on the field this season. In the press conference following the Dallas game, Newton told the media that he was open to suggestions on how to improve and win football games. Naturally, Cam’s behavior has drawn comparisons to Vince Young and Michael Vick and led many to question his potential as a franchise quarterback.
Panthers fans should be concerned that the team is losing, but they should not be questioning Newton's ability to win. Instead, they should be worried about the mental toll that defeat is taking on his fragile ego.
In the NFL, losing is contagious, especially to a young, disheartened quarterback who has the potential to be one of the league's most dynamic players. As rookies, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger were no more equipped to play in the NFL than Cam Newton last season. However, both Flacco and Roethlisberger both played in the AFC Championship as rookies, while Newton and the Panthers finished just 6-10.
Was Roethlisberger more of a winner than Newton in their respective rookie campaigns?
Give me a break.
Roethlisberger was more successful because his team put him in a much better position to win. The 2004 Steelers had the NFL's number one defense during Roethlisberger's rookie year. The Panthers had the NFL's 26th ranked defense last season, giving up about 26 points per contest.
On offense, the Steelers asked Roethlisberger to simply manage the game, which is why he averaged the least amount of passing attempts per contest out of all starting quarterbacks in 2004. Pittsburgh boasted one of the league's top rushing attacks that year as well, amassing more than 2,400 yards on the season. This took a lot of pressure off Roethlisberger and the passing game. As a result, the Steelers put their rookie signal caller in a position to win from day one.
On the other hand, the Panthers asked their rookie quarterback to win in shootout fashion on a weekly basis. While it should be no surprise that the Panthers winded up 6-10 last season, it was shocking that they had a chance to win almost every game.
This season, the Panthers have not only asked Newton to throw 28 times per game, but carry the ball eight times per game, as well. That is a tremendous amount of responsibility for any quarterback, let alone a second-year triggerman still learning how to play the pro game. The Panthers need to take some of the burden off Newton by establishing the ground game.
While Newton certainly deserves plenty of blame for the team's struggles this season, the Panthers organization simply hasn't put their franchise player in a position to succeed since they drafted him last year. There isn't one doubt in my mind that Cam Newton has the ability to take a team deep into the playoffs. It's up to the Panthers organization to put him in a position to do so. That starts with having realistic expectations when it comes to his development both on and off the field.
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