CHARLOTTE — One word to describe Cam Newton on Sunday in Denvers 36-14 obliteration of the Carolina Panthers?
Not scary good. Scary as in: Cam is lucky he got out of that game without getting hurt.
The Panthers horrendously overmatched offensive line allowed Newton to get sacked seven times and to get hit maybe a dozen more. Newton spent the game with Denver linebacker Von Miller surgically attached.
But it wasnt scary only in that way. It was also scary as in: Is that really all Newton has?
For Newton was something on Sunday that he is rarely described as: average.
Yes, he had very little time. But even when he had time, too often No. 1 missed his No. 1 receiver. Steve Smith was targeted seven times and caught one pass, and thats not because Smith was dropping them. Thats because Newton was throwing them 6 feet over Smiths head.
The only people doing the Superman thing on the Panthers home field Sunday were Broncos openly mocking Newton. Miller did it right after his first sack. Denver cornerback Tony Carter did it after he returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
On the interception, Newton had Miller attached to him once again. But he was trying to make a very dangerous sideline throw while falling down, and that wasnt smart. Newton said he should have slung the ball out of bounds.
Ive got to be more mature, knowing that its better to be second-and-10 instead of a pick-six, Newton said.
On another play, Newton was sacked for a rare safety when he held onto the ball too long not helped by the fact an unnamed Panther he planned to use as his checkdown stayed in blocking and never got out on the route.
Still, another poor decision not to throw the ball away.
It was impossible not to compare the two quarterbacks on the field. Newton suffers in a comparison to Peyton Manning, as just about anyone would. Manning with more time, more experience and more touch threw for 301 yards even though the Panthers got decent pressure against him.
Newton, on the other hand, went 0-for-12 on third-down conversions. He threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions and little luck finding anyone downfield except tight end Greg Olsen. Newton also couldnt get loose on a single scramble (four runs, 7 yards).
Newton and Smith had a long, quiet talk in the locker room after the game, sitting side by side with Smith doing most of the talking.
Smith wouldnt comment after the game about anything, and Newton characterized their conversation like this: Me and Steve always talk. Were a team. Were just going through a tough time. Weve got to just keep fighting.
Newton called his inability to connect with Smith frustrating.
Weve got to get him the football, Newton said. Whether its my fault, whether its the plays, the reads. ... It has to be a conscientious thought on each and every drive.
Newton tried hard not to blame his troubles on anyone other than himself Sunday. He said of his offensive line: Im not thrashing them. I dont expect anyone to thrash them. He quoted his head coach, saying: Coach Rivera always asks, Are you a person that looks through a window and points a finger at someone or are you a person that looks in the mirror? I look in the mirror.
What does Newton see in that mirror right now? A player who simply isnt as effective as he was in his rookie year.
A lot of that is because of an offensive line that wasnt that great to begin with and got far worse when Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil was lost for the year (my first choice for the Panthers inevitable high pick in the 2013 draft would be an offensive lineman).
But Newton also just isnt playing that well.
He has nine fumbles this season after fumbling only five times all season in 2011. His TD/interception ratio is worse. His rushing TDs are way down.
Newton can still make the spectacular play on occasion, but this was the fifth time in nine games this season the Panthers have scored 14 or fewer points.
Newton isnt getting enough help again, let me be clear on that, as well as the point that I still believe he can be an exceptional NFL player once again.
But hes not an exceptional player at the moment.
Right now, he is average.
And for a team that wants to commit to building the franchise around Newton, thats very scary.
Scott Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler