Luke DeCock

Thanks, Kyle Allen, but the Panthers are Cam Newton’s team again — whenever he’s ready

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Panthers at 49ers

Expanded coverage of Carolina’s Week 8 loss at San Francisco

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After this precipitous and calamitous end to the fun-while-it-lasted Kyle Allen Era, Cam Newton is going to come marching in like King George in “Hamilton,” very possibly wearing the same regal robes if MADE, his fashion label, has a few extra yards of red satin lying around somewhere.

You can almost hear Newton singing the song all along, in the background during these weeks when things went so well without him, right up until they didn’t Sunday:

You’ll be back, soon you’ll see

You’ll remember you belong to me

You’ll be back, time will tell

You’ll remember that I served you well

Oceans rise, empires fall

We have seen each other through it all

The Carolina Panthers are Newton’s team again, maybe not as soon as next Sunday after only one week of practice, but the sooner the better. All of Allen’s inadequacies were exposed by the San Francisco 49ers, not that he had a whole lot of help. With Christian McCaffrey bottled up and the Panthers’ offensive line overwhelmed, Allen — so effective playing within his capabilities in leading the Panthers to wins in his first four starts — was asked to make something, anything, happen.

Nothing ever did. Nothing good, anyway.

Allen made it to the 160th pass of his NFL career before throwing an interception, the third-longest streak in NFL history. It took him only 20 more attempts to throw a second pick. It took him one to throw a third.

“It’s football, man,” Allen said. “Stuff’s not always going to go your way.”

Outclassed, outmatched and outschemed, the 4-3 Panthers looked like a college team playing a guarantee game, down 24 at the half — only with no program-sustaining paycheck to collect at the end of this 51-13 loss to the undefeated 49ers.

Allen’s deep throws into a stiff, swirling wind were occasionally in the same zip code as his receivers, but that’s never been a strength of his. (Newton, too, struggled throwing downfield in his abbreviated return from shoulder surgery.) But with nothing else working, the Panthers had no choice.

“Once he got behind the 8-ball a little bit, he pressed and tried to make some throws he really didn’t need to,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “There were some other throws he could have made, but again, he was trying to win a football game.”

Meanwhile, the utter mismatch on the line, where the 49ers didn’t even need to blitz to get pressure, exposed Allen’s lack of mobility. On a third-and-5 on the Panthers’ second drive, Allen was run down from behind, unable to accelerate and get any separation from Arik Armstead. Would Newton have been able to get out of the long grasp of Armstead? Maybe. Maybe not. But there’s no doubt Allen had no chance, and that’s when he wasn’t scrambling into sacks, which also happened twice.

When Allen was previously asked to do what he can do, he was fine: 4-0 is 4-0, no matter how thin you slice it. He should be thanked for his service. But the 49ers posed questions Allen and the Panthers were unprepared and unequipped to answer.

Newton was there Sunday, on the road with the team for the first time since re-injuring his foot in Week 2, his hooded sweatshirt tucked into his joggers. He visibly grimaced at one point, watching the dismantling, perhaps not relishing the thought of being thrown back into the mix — if not next week at home against Tennessee, then in two weeks in Green Bay, a team only slightly less formidable than these 49ers.

Rivera’s already tired of being asked about it.

“Cam is still rehabbing,” Rivera said. “There doesn’t have to be a lot of questions, either. Just so you know that.”

This is as clear after this disaster as it ever was before: The Panthers might have been able to scrape things along with Allen at quarterback, but they stand no chance at all against teams like the 49ers without Newton.

He’ll be back, like before.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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