Cam Newton’s sore right shoulder has bothered quarterback for the past two months and this might have cost the Carolina Panthers their last chance to remain in playoff contention.
Newton’s interception late in the first half of Monday night’s 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints said it all.
The 2015 NFL MVP blew an opportunity to pad a 7-6 lead and reward a defense that played lights out most of the night. He was picked off on second-and-3 from the New Orleans 13 because his pass to Devin Funchess was so badly underthrown that the 6-foot-4 receiver did not have a chance to make a play on the ball.
As a result, the offense never recovered, as Newton mustered only 131 yards passing and had a season-low 52.5 passer rating.
After Monday night’s loss, the Panthers (6-8) now have lost six straight games. They trail the Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC with two games remaining, including a date with the Saints in New Orleans to close out the regular season.
They also are a game behind the Washington Redskins (7-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (7-7), both of whom are competing for a wild-card spot, as well.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Panthers have less than a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The biggest question left in this season is whether to sit Newton over the final two games to rest the shoulder? Though as ESPN reports, Newton insisted a lack of execution and not his arm strength was the reason for the loss, he admitted the constant soreness and having to rest during the week has been frustrating.
That Newton’s shoulder flared its ugly head on a night the defense finally played to the level it expected to prior to the season made the loss tougher to accept. Carolina held Drew Brees and a Saints offense averaging 34.4 points a game to two field goals through three quarters and 12 points for the game.
The only real offense the Panthers had came in the first half on a 50-yard touchdown pass from running back Christian McCaffrey to tight end Chris Manhertz on fourth-and-2.
The only other scoring threat came after cornerback James Bradberry picked off Brees, giving Newton the ball at the New Orleans 42.
But Newton returned the favor with an interception in the end zone.
Newton again insisted it had nothing to do with his arm strength and the stiffness and muscle tension he feels during and after each game.
However, the interception and other throws that came up short — particularly on Carolina’s final possession in the final minute with victory still within grasp — seemed to indicate otherwise.
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