The Cam Newton story gets complicated

Streeter Lecka - Getty Images

Cam Newton has been at the center of backlash all week long after last Thursday's loss to the Giants. Is something wrong with last season's rookie of the year? Maybe, but let's not get carried away.

You had to know this was coming. Especially after the offseason full of commercials and Super Bowl hype and photo shoots, you had to know that there would be massive backlash as soon as Cam Newton struggled even a little bit. And struggling was a decent bet. He gave us one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the NFL, but he was still a rookie. We were grading him on a curve.

With any rookie--and especially quarterbacks--every mistake he makes doesn't really matter, and every incredible touchdown doubles as a sign of greatness to come. "If he's this good now," everyone gawks "just wait..." If Michael Vick had the same season Cam had last year--and the Eagles went 6-10--there would be no "Quarterback of the Future" profiles afterward.

So that's really all there is to the story of Cam Newton this first month. He was so impressive as a rookie that A) everyone forgot about all his mistakes and B) everyone just took for granted that he'd be twice as good this year. This was supposed to be the next stage in Cam Newton's path to world domination, and three weeks in everyone's doing a double-take.

Which isn't to say Cam's blameless. He's been horrible in the two Panthers losses, and he hasn't handled it well. During last week's Giants loss--where Newton threw three interceptions and got himself benched--Steve Smith went up and lectured him about his body language on the sideline:

"I watched (Derek Andersen) and Jimmy (Clausen), they don't play in 20-something games last year. And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps. I told him, 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk. Statistics don't lie. Athletic quarterbacks, they either excel or they fail. And I told Cam that. This is an opportunity for him to learn..."

Since then, though--one awful game, one comment about Cam Newton's body language--it's become open season on Cam Newton and Cam Newton's attitude. Are we really sure Cam Newton's a winner?

That's where this whole story gets pretty stupid.

Last December, Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote:

Many of us were skeptical of Cam Newton's ability to transition to the pro game so quickly, and without a full offseason program. But he's done a fabulous job in all ways of adjusting to the NFL. His confidence is off the charts for a young player. His hatred of losing, as I've written about before, is surprising for such a young player; after a loss, he's nearly inconsolable, even by respected opponents.

So last year it was GOOD that Cam Newton was inconsolable after losses. This year?

"Who wants to support something that puts on a performance of embarrassment? If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers, I would be holding my head down in shame of the product that was out there today."

-- Cam Newton, after his Panthers lost to the Giants 36-7 Thursday night.

Get a hold of yourself, fella. A bomb didn't fall on Charlotte.

Yeah hang on there, no need to be inconsolable over things, Mr. Drama Queen.

Sportswriters are THE WORST. And then there was this cartoon in the Charlotte Observer, mocking Cam Newton's (admittedly pretty terrible) touchdown celebration.


And now it's a national story.


And everyone's concerned.



Let's just be clear with all this: Cam Newton definitely has room to grow playing quarterback, and just as much to learn about being the quarterback--looking the part, if only to avoid stupid media storylines like this one. And yeah, as dumb as some of the pontificating seems, if someone like Steve Smith says he needs to learn and change, then he needs to learn and change. But he still has plenty of time.

He went from being graded on the easiest possible curve to being graded against Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Just because he's struggling to measure up doesn't mean he's taken a step backwards. In Brett Favre's second season as a starter he threw 19 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. In Drew Brees' second year he threw 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. For now, Cam is still just a young quarterback with an insane amount of talent, who's asked to do more for his team than just about any quarterback in the NFL.

Just because he hasn't become an All-Pro doesn't mean we're suddenly headed in the wrong direction. If anything, struggling this year will teach him more than his rookie year ever did.

So I guess what I'm saying is, when people like Peter King wring their hands over Cam Newton this year and the whole world gets concerned, just remember what Peter King said last year: "Newton will learn when not to challenge a baiting corner ... It's a learning process. The one thing we've seen so far is that Newton's a very quick study, which should take him a long way in the NFL."

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