Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.
Although those are lyrics by The Fray, it accurately describes the QB dilemma that the Carolina Panthers had to face. Although it has been evident for quite some time – I would venture to say Week 7 – Cam Newton and the Panthers coaching staff have accepted the fact that Newton is not healthy.
In a Week 7 match up against the Baltimore Ravens, Newton left the game and backup Taylor Heinicke came in on the last play of the first half. Following the game, head coach Ron Rivera explained to media that the plan was for Heinicke to throw a Hail Mary – a play that Newton was not comfortable attempting due to shoulder soreness in the week prior.
Going forward, Newton would appear on the injury report every Wednesday with a “right shoulder’ injury. Every week, Newton’s presence on the injury report was referred to as a “new normal” procedure and no cause for concern. But there was cause for concern – a lot of concern to be exact.
Panthers fans would witness a decline week after week as Newton, the 2015 MVP, struggled to throw the ball downfield more than 15 yards or so. Following the Monday Night Football loss to the New Orleans Saints, QB1 finally opened up about his frustration with an injury that he still does not quite understand.
I think the frustration comes when you do any and everything to make sure your body is at peak performance. From cardio, treatment, practice, film, cardio, treatment, practice, film. It’s been repetition. I think it’s disheartening to me because there’s so much invested time put in. I don’t want to play the “woe is me” game, but I have to be better. That’s what’s so frustrating. When you want it so bad and you push.
It was actually painful to hear Newton explain his shoulder pain after games. He also revealed that not a night goes by where he does not have some sort of treatment done on his shoulder. Newton was asked about possibly having to sit out of Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and he responded by saying, “I guess we’ll have to have that conversation if we have that conversation. I’m not looking forward to that conversation,”
On Wednesday, they had THAT conversation. General manager Marty Hurney, owner David Tepper, Rivera, and Newton decided that a healthy Taylor Heinicke would give the Panthers the best chance at snapping the six-game losing streak the team is currently laboring through. Rivera described the conversation to the media following practice.
“It was a very good conversation with Cam and uh, he understood. He understood our thinking behind this. Um, you know, and again, he said he’s disappointed. He’s frustrated. Knowing him he wants to play and uh, this is just one of those things. We had a great conversation and he understands going forward.”
For Rivera, the conversation was not an easy one. Rivera and Newton joined the organization at the same time and the head coach has not been shy about how he feels about his signal-caller. “I believe in him so this was a very tough decision,” said the eighth year head coach.
All is not lost however, as Heinicke has likely taken more snaps than any other back up as part of the Panthers “new normal” routine of resting Newton during the week. Several teammates heaped praise on Heinicke and expressed how well he knows the system. “He gonna make some plays,”said receiver Jarius Wright. “That’s one thing I definitely expect him to do and like I keep telling everybody, I just, I’m just so excited to actually get to show y’all that he can play. I know he can do it,”
Rivera deferred all medical questions to the training staff, but per team spokesperson, head trainer Ryan Vermillion declined comment. Newton did not address the media today.