Tom Sorensen

Whatever’s wrong with Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton, it’s not the diet or his scarves

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's postgame scarf has nothing to do with the struggles he's had this season.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's postgame scarf has nothing to do with the struggles he's had this season. AP

Cam Newton apparently aggravated his foot injury eating vegetables as he put on a scarf last worn by Lucille Ball in 1957.

Some of us can’t help ourselves. When something goes wrong, such as Newton’s 2019 season, we panic. When we finishing panicking, we manufacture reasons for his slump.

I’ve been told that Newton is playing poorly because he’s on a vegan diet. No, wait, that’s not it. Newton is playing poorly because he wore a scarf after the Carolina Panthers’ 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And, say many fans, you should never wear a Lucille Ball scarf after a loss. So Newton should have two lockers, and if the Panthers lose, he should wear a ball cap, khaki pants and sensible shoes.

Newton played poorly against the Buccaneers in part because he aggravated an injury to his foot, an injury he initially suffered in the preseason exhibition against the New England Patriots. Is the foot the reason that in the opener against the Los Angeles Rams, as well as against Tampa Bay, Newton rarely ran and regularly missed receivers?

But first, I have to say something: I can’t fathom caring about the attire of another adult male. When I go into a bar or coffee shop, I don’t see a guy and think, “I hate your clothes.” Yet I hear from readers who say they are are embarrassed by Newton’s clothing. He represents our team.

If all it takes is a scarf to embarrass you, find a new team. Maybe Old Navy has one.

As far as the vegan diet goes, do you think the absence of dead animal products compelled him to miss receivers in the season-opening loss to the Rams?

If Newton continues to struggle, the North American Meat Council might use him in an ad.

See how lean he is? Don’t let this happen to you. If you want to avoid going through life beneath a scarf, eat meat.

Some feel that Newton is on the long, slow slide to oblivion, and that he’ll never star for Carolina or any other team again. It’s mid-September, and some Newton detractors have already written their concession speeches.

Maybe we forget how Newton used to play. If you want to see the old Newton, you don’t have to dig up old film.

Watch Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Or watch Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Look at Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who entered the NFL in 2012, a year after Newton did.

Although Michael Vick predated Newton, Vick was a different quarterback. It was as if people said: Oh, look at how fast he runs, isn’t that cute? Defensive coordinators had a plan. Hit Vick early, hit him every opportunity you get, create opportunities to hit him, and he’ll wear down and draw in long before the game ends.

Newton carried the quarterback position to a place it had never been, busting stereotypes and creating opportunities. He was going to run as well as pass, and he was as likely to wear out defenders as they were to wear out him.

Newton charged into the league and onto the field all big and brash and confident. If he didn’t get you with his arm, he’d get you with his legs. Many of the quarterbacks for whom running is an important option were influenced by Newton, as were the coaches who encourage it.

Newton probably won’t play Sunday. Should the Panthers and quarterback Kyle Allen lose to Arizona, they drop to 0-3. Since 1980, five of the 173 teams that started 0-3 made the playoffs. That’s 2.9%. The most recent was the Buffalo Bills, 21 years ago, and after losing three straight, they won five straight.

There’s never been a must-win game on Sept. 22. But if the Panthers lose, their problems will supersede their franchise quarterback’s attire, or menu.

Questions around Michael Jordan’s new ownership group

A year ago a source told me that a Charlotte businessman, and a few associates, were trying to buy the Charlotte Hornets. Nobody would confirm it. Nothing came of it. The story floated away like Charlotte’s chances to make the NBA playoffs.

The Observer’s Rick Bonnell broke the story last week that Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan hopes to sell a piece of the team to Gabe Plotkin of Melvin Capital and Daniel Sundheim of DI Capital.

The details are vague. We don’t know how much of the team Jordan is expected to sell. We know only that Jordan will retain majority interest, which means the team remains his. He’s Santa Claus. The other owners are his elves.

I haven’t talked to Jordan one-on-one or in a small group for years. But I’d love to know if he enjoys owning his team. He has to enjoy one facet of it. He bought the team nine years ago for $275 million, and Forbes speculates that the value of the Hornets is now $1.3 billion.

TV money is beautiful, and the NBA is smart. Players are allowed to express opinions, and the association is big enough and confident enough to let them. We don’t see robots on the court. We see human beings with an array of incredible skills.

When we see them at Spectrum Center this season, they usually will play for other teams. The Hornets let their lone star, Kemba Walker, walk, and although they won’t concede this, they are starting over. We know the formula and have seen it with the Carolina Panthers as well as with the Hornets.

Get worse to get better. Move to the bottom of the standings so, with a high draft pick, you have an opportunity to move toward the top.

But how does Charlotte’s serial losing affect the owner? Yes, Jordan got to show Charlotte off during NBA All-Star festivities last season.

Yet what about the game-to-game, week-to-week, season-to-season grind? Jordan probably is the greatest basketball player of all time. And as a player he won. As an owner, he has failed to, and nobody knows if that will change.

Only three times since the Hornets (Bobcats) returned to Charlotte in 2004 has Charlotte won more games than it lost, two of them after Jordan bought the team. The Hornets last made the playoffs in 2015-16, and took the Miami Heat to seven games before losing in the first-round. Those are the only playoff games the Hornets have won since their return to Charlotte.

So you own a team, and it loses games. Then it loses its best player.

I’d hoped Jordan would sell the team to the Charlotte businessman. No reason to report his name since nothing came of it.

Adding two owners can’t hurt. The Hornets will be one of the league’s worst teams no matter how many pieces are sold.

Mitch Kupchak, whom the Hornets hired in April 2018 as president of basketball operations and general manager, is credible. He had a good first draft, although I didn’t like his second draft three months ago. But since those players have yet to play, we have no idea how effective the draft choices will be.

How much pull does Kupchak have? Who makes the basketball decisions? I hope it’s Kupchak because, with the exception of Walker, so many previous drafts have failed.

The Hornets have been in rebuilding mode since they returned to Charlotte in 2004. Next season, they’ll rebuild again.

This week’s NFL picks

Rough week, the second week of the NFL season. It started poorly on Thursday. I picked the Panthers to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On Sunday, it ended poorly. All night long, I expected the Philadelphia Eagles to beat the Atlanta Falcons. Catch those late game passes, fellows, and you win. They didn’t, and the Falcons beat them in Atlanta.

I did get my Lock of the Week. My Lock has so far been a Lock. But, first, the bad news:

Last Week: 9-7

Season: 21-10-1.

Lock of the Week: Got it. I picked the Cleveland Browns, a 2½-point favorite against the New York Jets, to cover. The Browns won on the road by 20.

Lock of the Week for the season: 2-0.

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

THURSDAY

JACKSONVILLE 2 over Tennessee

SUNDAY

BUFFALO 6 over Cincinnati

PHILADELPHIA 9 over Detroit

MINNESOTA 11 over Oakland

KANSAS CITY 7 over Baltimore

INDIANAPOLIS 3 over Atlanta

GREEN BAY 7 over Denver

DALLAS 24 over Miami

TAMPA BAY 7 over New York Giants

ARIZONA 2 over Carolina

SAN FRANCISCO 7 over Pittsburgh

SEATTLE 4 over New Orleans

SAN DIEGO 3 over Houston

Los Angeles Rams 2 over CLEVELAND

MONDAY

Chicago 1 over WASHINGTON

All but guaranteed Lock of the Week: NEW ENGLAND (-24) 33 over the New York Jets. (In a related development, the DALLAS COWBOYS are favored by 22 against the Miami Dolphins.)

Giving up 24 points is absurd. But are you going to bet the Jets? The Patriots average 38½ points, and give up an average of 1½.

NFL quarterbacks getting younger

I talked with Panthers coach Ron Rivera one-on-one before the season. I’d rather talk to a guy for five or 10 minutes alone than for an hour in a group.

I asked Rivera if he was comfortable with Kyle Allen as the primary backup to starting quarterback Cam Newton.

“Yes,” he said immediately. “The proof’s in the pudding. We’ve seen him in game situations. We’ve seen him have success. So as far as I’m concerned, just knowing that he did those things and can do those things for us, you feel comfortable.”

I asked if he expected to bring in a veteran, and I asked specifically about former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Rivera said: “I think what we need to do is focus” on the quarterbacks the Panthers have.

Allen started in Carolina’s finale last season against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints, who had clinched the top seed in the NFC, played their defensive starters for a half. Allen was 16 of 27 for 228 yards and two touchdowns, and accumulated the bulk of those numbers against the starters.

The more Rivera talked about Allen, the more passionate he became.

“Plus, last year was his (Allen’s) rookie year,” said Rivera. “So you figure here’s a guy who as a rookie came in and did some good things. That’s why we feel good about him.”

Rivera is gambling. If Newton is out Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, or for several Sundays, the Panthers will entrust their offense to a 23-year-old who is 11 months younger than rookie quarterback Will Grier and who has started one NFL game.

The Panthers will go the same route as three of the other teams who’ve lost their starting quarterback.

Rock Hill’s Mason Rudolph, whom the Pittsburgh Steelers selected in the third round of the 2018 draft, will replace Ben Roethlisberger, who injured his elbow and is out for the season.

Gardner Minshew has replaced Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback Nick Foles. Foles broke his collarbone. Minshew, who played at East Carolina before transferring to Washington State, is a rookie. Jacksonville drafted him in the sixth round, 78 picks after the Panthers selected Grier.

Teddy Bridgewater has replaced New Orleans Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees. Bridgewater is 26, and a former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

When New York Jets’ starter Sam Darnold went out with mononucleosis, Trevor Siemian replaced him. Siemian, 27, was a seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos, and was a member of the Denver team that beat the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. He started 14 games for the Broncos the following season.

Siemian was injured last Sunday in his first start for New York, and is out for the season. Replacing him is Luke Falk, who like Minshew played at Washington State. The Jets took him in the sixth round of the 2018 draft.

Teams are willing to go young. Maybe that sounded like a good idea when the starters were healthy. Maybe it still does.

Allen wasn’t drafted out of Houston. The Panthers signed him, cut him, slipped him onto the practice squad, cut him, signed him to the practice squad and promoted him to the roster.

Allen is stealth. We don’t know what he can do and we don’t know what he can’t, not in a game such as Sunday’s, a game that carries much more weight than Carolina’s finale last season.

What struck me when Rivera and I talked was how strongly the coach believes in his quarterback.

On Sunday, we might find out why.

Short takes: Oh, the hits NFL players take

I’ve watched NFL games from the field. Players are hit hard and often, and usually bounce up after getting knocked down. Despite all the training and all the conditioning and all the diets and therapy, a human body is not designed to accept the abuse theirs do.

I’m not surprised when players are injured. I’m surprised when they’re not…

NASCAR’s playoffs would be more interesting if Jimmie Johnson was in them. He is one of the best of all time. For so long, he was the standard. He’s won seven championships. The playoffs began in 2004, and these are the first for which Johnson has failed to qualify. Some want to attribute his success to his equipment. You can’t do what he has without courage and talent.

At 44, Johnson is the oldest driver in the Cup series. For the first time he failed to win a race this season. He last won in June 2017.

Johnson is a class guy. But as much as I like underdogs, I like athletes such as him. Beat Johnson, and you know you did something. He’s such a presence. Unfortunately, he’ll be, for the first time, a spectator as the title is decided...

The Clemson Tigers are 42-point favorites at home against the Charlotte 49ers on Saturday. The first line I saw was 41, so by game time it might be in the mid-40s.

Charlotte has had a football team only seven seasons, and it’s cool to see it line up against Clemson, the country’s top-ranked team. The game is at Clemson. You imagine if Clemson played the 49ers in Charlotte?

More than at any time, the 49ers have something going this season. Around the country, fans are unlikely to notice during and after Saturday’s game. But those who follow the program do.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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