There has almost been a crowning of Cam Newton as an NFL great in recent weeks. The way a movie star who thinks he's going to get the Best Actor nod from the Academy hits the party circuit beforehand. It's been smiles and handshakes and pats on the back for the young Panthers quarterback.
A big party for Cammy Cam, the Panthers (the NFL's darlings), with Newton the chief benefactor of the kisses and hugs from the media. Bob Costas interviewed him Sunday night and it was a lovefest. The only thing missing was a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.
As good as Newton has been, as good as he is, and as good as he will be, pay attention to this number: 5-15.
That's Newton's career NFL record against winning teams.
Newton and the Panthers had an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the league by beating the Saints. They could have told the league: We're not just a pretty defense. We're not a fad. Our offense can play, too. We're here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and we're all out of bubble gum.
Instead, it was New Orleans, in a 31-13 drubbing of Carolina at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that made the statement, putting the Panthers in their place—which is behind the Saints. Nice kitties. Good try. Cute effort.
Let's not put the Panthers in the Hall of Fame just yet. Carolina's defense was dry roasted by Drew Brees, but you knew Brees was going to get his (30-of-42, 313 YDS, 4 TD, 0 INT). At home, Brees is a point-scoring robot. When the Saints play in the dome, all Brees has to do is breathe on the football and the points reproduce like Tribbles.
Yes, Brees was going to be Brees. What the Panthers needed was more from Newton. It would be unfair to ask Newton to match Brees point for point, but he had to come close. He didn't. It was embarrassing just how inept Carolina's offense was. Newton had 34 passing yards in the first half. Thirty-four. Late in the third quarter, he had 75. That's not how you beat the Saints.
But back to that 5-15 number.
When others have blasted Newton for his attitude or smirks, I usually defended him. There's always a legion of body language experts in the media that seem to interpret every shoulder shrug or pursed lip as some sort of deep-seated dis. If you can tell what someone is thinking from the way they twist their head, or drape a towel over their noggin, you need to stop trolling Twitter and join the FBI.
Newton has clearly grown up, but that's not enough. What I wanted to see from Newton was the same thing I've witnessed with Russell Wilson or even a Ryan Tannehill or Andy Dalton, and that's inflate their game in huge moments against top competition late in the year. Newton did beat Tom Brady in November, but that wasn't a key divisional game deep into the season.
The Panthers didn't score their first touchdown until there was 5:15 left in the game. That's not how legacies are created and championships built. Newton isn't supposed to be Trent Dilfer—a caretaker who hands the ball off and then watches the defense get all the glory. Newton is the glory.
What's needed from Newton is just more big games in these moments. Entering this contest, Newton was 22-22 in 44 games, with just five of those 22 wins coming against teams with winning records.
This has to be the next step in the Evolution of Cam. We've seen Cam the Magnificent. We've endured Cam the Sophomore Slump. Now we're seeing Cam the Good.
He can be so much better than good, but against the good he's been average. Brees tossed four touchdown passes. Dalton had four total TDs in a crucial game against Indianapolis. Newton had 160 passing yards with most of that yardage coming late when the game was decided and the one late TD.
To be great, have to do better than that.