Cam Newton had such an incredible rookie season that many were already prepared to enshrine him in Canton, Ohio — take it easy with the Hall of Fame talk, trendsetters. But after a subpar start to his sophomore campaign, Newton suddenly had more naysayers than believers.
The cycle has once again come full circle for the enigmatic quarterback, though. Newton has led the Panthers to three wins over their last four games, and he’s rapidly reemerged as the Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback he proved to be in 2011.
After a putrid start to 2012, which included a 2-8 record and Newton tossing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine), last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year has himself and his team back on the right track.
Since their heartbreaking overtime loss to the Buccaneers in Week 11, Newton has thrown nine touchdown passes, rushed for three more and hasn’t turned the ball over at all while the Panthers have gone 3-1. His broad skill set has helped Carolina take a major leap forward as the season winds down, and if his hot streak continues over the final two weeks, it may have even saved head coach Ron Rivera‘s job.
Newton isn’t the most likeable guy around the league. His Pro Bowl peers, at least, didn’t seem to appreciate his “diva attitude.” But whether popular or not, Cam has developed a reputation as a dangerous offensive weapon.
Even if Robert Griffin III doesn’t like the comparisons drawn between him and Newton, the two are similar in that both are dynamic and extremely unique quarterbacks.
RG3 combines track-star speed on the ground and incredible precision as a passer, while Newton brings his monstrous size, bulldozing force and impressive arm strength. Both make for dangerous concoctions, which typically keep opposing defenses on their heels.
Where Griffin was excelling in almost all facets of the game earlier this season, Newton was struggling just to keep any single element of his game in line. The turnaround seemed to be prompted by a 22-point beating at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Broncos in front of the home crowd at Bank of America Stadium.
Since then, Newton has been stellar with both his arm and legs, and even more importantly he’s kept Carolina in every game late (including two losses which were both decided by less than a touchdown).
The most telling piece of Newton’s transformation is that this doesn’t appear to be the same Cam from a season ago, or even earlier this season. He’s seemed to improve as a passer, develop more confidence in his decision making and has just matured as a player overall.
It was exactly three months ago when Cam sat pouting on the sidelines like a little child after throwing three interceptions in a blowout loss to the Giants. That is the sort of the immaturity that has seen elite-level talents wasted — ahem, JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, anyone?
The fact is that Newton is an elite talent. There’s no debate about it. He’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and runs a sub-4.7 40-yard dash. But his maturity is his Achilles heel, and it just so happens to be his biggest detriment to reaching that elite level of play.
But if he continues to develop confidence — not the pompous attitude that can be seen in his Superman touchdown celebration — and mature as both a person and a teammate, then the possibilities are endless.
Pro Bowl selections, MVP awards and even Super Bowl titles are all well within his reach. The only question that remains is whether Newton can get out of his own way, because Cam can be either his greatest asset or his worst nightmare. Now which one is it going to be?
Pick Six — The six biggest Trendsetters of the past week in the NFL
1. Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Down — This guy has seen the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. Now he’s fallen out of favor in NY and likely will find his way out of town. He’d only be so lucky.
2. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks: Up — While Sanchez continues to throw away — quite literally — every chance he’s had in New York, Wilson is make the most of his in Seattle. He’s a touchdown machine of late — 11 total in his last five games — and he has the Seahawks peaking just in time for the playoffs.
3. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants: Up — The NFL responded to the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. with a terrific remembrance of all the victims over the weekend. Cruz went even beyond that, writing the names of victims on his shoes and planning to go visit with a family directly affected by the tragedy. He’s a pretty amazing guy.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: Up — In this week’s edition of the Adrian Peterson power rankings, a mere 212 rushing yards impresses quarterback Christian Ponder, who hasn’t thrown for that many yards in over a month.
5. Detroit Lions: Down — How far the mighty have fallen. It’s almost unbelievable that this team was in the playoffs just last season. After a 28-point trouncing from the Cardinals on Sunday, the Lions are riding a six-game losing streak and the fans are about ready to break out the paper bags. Yeesh.
6. Ricky Stanzi, QB, Chiefs: Up -- Matt Cassell and Brady Quinn just haven’t been getting it done. Now, the Chiefs may turn to the 2011 fifth-round pick for some offensive relief. Kansas City, it’s time to “Stanz Up!”