Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was asked on Monday, January 1, 2018 if quarterback Cam Newton is a different type of quarterback during the playoffs and what should we expect? Rivera says that it is about how the team comes out and performs. He expects Newton to play well following the tough outing the team had against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, December 31, 2017. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was asked on Monday, January 1, 2018 if quarterback Cam Newton is a different type of quarterback during the playoffs and what should we expect? Rivera says that it is about how the team comes out and performs. He expects Newton to play well following the tough outing the team had against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, December 31, 2017. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Columns & Blogs

One word describes Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s playoff history

January 02, 2018 07:00 AM

Quarterback Cam Newton has long been the Carolina Panthers’ best and most dazzling offensive player, as well as the only NFL Most Valuable Player the team has ever had.

But when Newton has gotten in the NFL playoffs, here’s the brutal truth: Over six postseason games, you can describe his overall play in one word - mediocre.

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And mediocrity is not an option Sunday. Newton will have to be great for Carolina to upset New Orleans Sunday afternoon at 4:40 p.m. in the NFL’s wild-card playoff round.

Newton’s playoff record is 3-3 entering the Saints game. His quarterback rating is 83.9 – slightly worse than his career regular-season rating of 85.3. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in the playoffs but also has thrown seven interceptions.

The quarterback is also coming off one of the worst games of his seven-year NFL career. Newton posted a career-low passer rating in a three-interception game in Carolina’s 22-10 loss to Atlanta Sunday. Coach Ron Rivera said Monday he felt confident Newton would play well against New Orleans because the quarterback normally “bounces back after a tough outing.”

This was a frequent sight in Super Bowl 50, as Cam Newton was harassed all day by a monstrous Denver pass rush in the most recent playoff game in which he has played. Carolina lost, 24-10, to drop Newton’s overall playoff record to 3-3.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

That has traditionally been true, but it’s also true that Sunday in the Superdome will rank as one of the most difficult playoff venues of Newton’s playoff experience. Only one of Newton’s previous six playoff games has been a true road game. He lost that one, at Seattle three years ago. Of his other five playoff games, four have been at home and Super Bowl 50 was held at the neutral site of Santa Clara, Calif.

Only one top 50 receiver

So Sunday’s game will have a high degree of difficulty. And it doesn’t help that Newton’s cast of wide receivers is once again suspect, as it has been ever since Steve Smith was released following the 2013 season.

It’s all about contested catches and physicality.

Quarterback Cam Newton, on how he and his receivers must link up in the playoffs.

The Panthers had only one receiver -- Devin Funchess, at No.27 -- among the NFL’s top 50 pass-catchers in terms of receiving yardage regardless of position. In the Atlanta game, Carolina’s receivers often got no separation. And Newton didn’t help himself with a number of overthrows. Even before the interceptions, his first nine throws were incomplete.

Cam Newton’s best game of his six previous playoff appearances was a four-TD performance (two rushing, two passing) against Arizona on Jan. 24, 2016 -- which included this leap into the end zone in a 49-15 win.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

“We just have to understand,” Newton said afterward, “that a game like this and games moving forward, guys aren’t just going to be free. As a whole, from throwing the ball and catching the ball, we have to make contested catches and maximize on good opportunities that we do get. ...It’s all about contested catches and physicality.” 

Newton has certainly surpassed former quarterback Jake Delhomme in almost every career category for the Panthers. But it’s worth noting that he hasn’t caught Delhomme in career playoff wins. Delhomme went 5-3 as a playoff starter, including five games with a 100-plus quarterback rating.

Cam Newton has surpassed almost all of former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme’s franchise records, but Delhomme still leads Newton in playoff victories by a 5-3 margin.
David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Delhomme also had what will rank forever as the worst playoff game a Panthers quarterback has ever played, committing six turnovers in a 2009 loss nine years ago.

Carolina Panthers Cam Newton talks about facing the New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers Cam Newton talks about facing the New Orleans Saints.

David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

For a quick refresher, let’s take a brief chronological look at Newton’s previous six playoff games:

Jan. 12, 2014: San Francisco (home loss, QB rating of 79.9).

In a 23-10 loss to the 49ers in his first playoff game, Newton threw one touchdown pass (to Steve Smith) and had 267 yards passing. But he also had two interceptions and saw his “Superman” celebration mocked in the end zone by the winning quarterback -- San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.

In 2014, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton embraced before Newton’s first-ever playoff game. Kaepernick and the 49ers prevailed, 23-10.
John Bazemore AP

Jan. 3, 2015: Arizona (home win, QB rating of 82.6).

Newton’s first playoff win was keyed by a Panthers defense that allowed only 78 total yards – the fewest in a playoff game in NFL history. But Newton contributed by playing a smart game without a lot of mistakes (18-for-32, 198 passing yards, two TDs, one interception).

Jan. 10, 2015: Seattle (road loss, QB rating of 79.2).

Newton was thoroughly outplayed by Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who also benefited from having a much better supporting cast. Newton committed three turnovers in the 31-17 defeat – the last one an interception that Seattle’s Kam Chancellor returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) has played Seattle twice in the playoffs, splitting the two games.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Jan. 17, 2016: Seattle (home win, QB rating of 108.3).

Newton and the Panthers edged the Seahawks – who had been their nemesis for the past several years – in a wild playoff game that began with Carolina establishing a 31-0 lead and ended with Thomas Davis hanging on to an onside kick to preserve a 31-24 victory. Newton’s statistics were quietly effective – 16-for-22 for 161 passing yards, one passing TD and no interceptions.

Jan. 24, 2016: Arizona (home win, QB rating of 117.4).

This was Newton at his best. His most dominant playoff game ever resulted in the Panthers’ most lopsided playoff win ever – a 49-15 plastering of Arizona in the only NFC Championship Game ever held in Charlotte. Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, somersaulting into the end zone on one of them after an acrobatic leap.

The most recent playoff game for Cam Newton was the Super Bowl following the 2015 season, when the Denver Broncos sacked the quarterback six times and held him without a passing or rushing touchdown on the way to a 24-10 victory.
Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Feb. 7, 2016: Denver (neutral-site loss, QB rating of 55.4).

After his MVP regular season, Newton did not personally account for a single Panthers TD in Carolina’s surprisingly thorough 24-10 loss to the Broncos. Sacked six times, Newton also gave up a Denver touchdown on a strip-sack fumble. He suffered through four drops by his receivers and terrible protection from his offensive line. He also was roundly criticized both for not trying to dive onto another fumble he lost and for his pouty demeanor in his postgame news conference. 

Dangerous when ‘fast’

OK, back to Sunday’s game. Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula noted Monday that Newton is “dangerous” when he “plays fast” – by which he means good, quick decisions that get Newton into a rhythm early. If Newton can play like that Sunday, the Panthers have a chance.

But if Newton doesn’t play very well?

Then the Panthers have no chance at all.

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler

Carolina Panthers Cam Newton: Team needs to turn the page real fast

Carolina Panthers Cam Newton says team needs to turn the page real fast and get ready for the next opponent.

David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com