The first two games of the 2019 NFL season have raised alarm bells that something is wrong with Cam Newton.
On Thursday, Newton had one of the worst games of his career in a 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton completed just 24-of-50 passes for 324 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, though there were several close calls. Furthermore, Newton often struggled to hit receivers downfield, or threw the ball behind them, causing dropped passes or plays that didn't result in any yardage after the catch.
The Panthers also looked hesitant to use Newton as a runner. He had just two rush attempts for zero yards. On the game's deciding play, the Panthers chose to use Christian McCaffrey on 4th-and-2 to run into the end zone instead of Newton. McCaffrey was pushed out of bounds before he could score the game-winning touchdown.
It was just the sixth game of Newton's career in which he completed less than 50% of his passes and didn't throw a touchdown.
Though McCaffrey is a skilled offensive weapon, as football analyst Warren Sharp noted, Newton has been one of the most successful short-yardage converters in the NFL.
Thursday's game followed a relatively quiet Week 1 from Newton in which he threw for 239 yards on 25-of-38 passing with 0 touchdowns. After that game, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Newton's lack of rushing and deep shots Newton's "call."
Immediately, the NFL world has wondered about the health of Newton's shoulder, which ended his 2018 season and required offseason surgery.
After Thursday's game, Newton even suggested that some physical ailments could be holding him back, though he didn't use it as an excuse.
"I have to be better," Newton told reporters. "No matter what physical condition I'm in. No matter what, foot, shoulder … I didn't get the job done, and it's frustrating. I wish I could say something other than that, but that's the fact. I'm a brutally honest person with people, and I'm a brutally honest person with myself. And it's time for me to look myself in the mirror and do some real soul-searching because I had opportunities tonight and I didn't get it done."
Newton wore a walking boot in training camp to protect a foot injury. After the game, Rivera told reporters that Newton's foot is no longer a problem.
The NFL world has been buzzing about Newton's physical condition, however. ESPN's Ed Werder reported that the Bucs coaches said Newton is no longer the same running threat he once was.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman tweeted that many in the league think Newton is in worse shape than Andrew Luck. The former Colts QB retired from football at 29, due to physical ailments.
Some think that Newton is simply in a recovery and adjustment process. He worked with quarterback guru Tom House this offseason to change his throwing motion. Some in the NFL world think Newton will figure out how to adjust over time.
It's unclear what type of team these Panthers are. They've played tough, competitive games this season, but ultimately lost both at home. However, it's tough to know if they have a chance against the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars when it's unclear what Newton will be able to do.
Given that through two games Newton has negative rushing yards, expecting him to return the Newton of old may be ill-advised. However, if Newton can return to being somewhat of a threat to run and able to hit his receivers in stride, the Panthers should be contenders in the NFC South. If he can't, we may be witnessing the early demise of one of the NFL's most gifted quarterbacks.