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  • Over the last few weeks, it's clear that Cam Newton has been struggling with his shoulder strength, unable to throw deep. How does this impact a Carolina team still very much in contention for the playoffs?
By Jonathan Jones
December 06, 2018

CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton started his weekly Wednesday press conference with a fib.

“It feels great,” Newton said when asked about how his right throwing shoulder felt. “Taking it day by day. It’ll be ready to go by Sunday.”

It can’t feel great, and the evidence is there on tape. But Newton opened up in the next 13 minutes. He didn’t exactly detail his ailments—yes, multiple—but he admitted that he’s not close to 100% healthy and can’t make the throws he’s used to making.

“Just got to live with it. Father Time ain’t nobody’s friend,” Newton said. “At the end of the day you’ve got to do certain things that give you the best opportunity to be accurate, have strength in your arm or have endurance in the game. For me it’s just all about taking care of the little things that make big sense in the long run.”

The 6' 5", 245-pound Newton has long been known for, among other things, a strong arm. He’s relied on his upper-body strength in the pros almost to a fault, sometimes sacrificing lower-body fundamentals for his arm talent to challenge tight windows. But now, amid a four-game losing streak and a week after he proclaimed he was playing his best ball of his career, Newton has been humbled.

In last week’s loss to Tampa Bay, Newton was subbed out for backup Taylor Heinicke for a second time this season to throw a Hail Mary. In the past three weeks on passes traveling at least 15 yards, Newton is 6-for-19 with one touchdown and four interceptions. On throws traveling more than 20 yards, he’s 3-for-12. The greatest air distance he’s gotten on a completed pass all season is 40.5 yards, which is third-worst in the league behind 39-year-old Josh McCown and rookie Nick Mullens. A second offseason shoulder surgery in three years is likely for Newton once the season is complete.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera stressed the Panthers’ coaches haven’t discussed alternatives to a broken Newton. He wouldn’t say whether Newton’s injury has forced the Panthers to do things differently on offense. But the idea of finding another option (probably meaning starting Heinicke if and when the season officially becomes lost this month) is kicking around.

“He’s going to do whatever you can to win a football game,” Rivera said. “He’ll do what we can and we just have to be ready to do something different if we have to. I think that’s probably where we’re going to get to. I’m not sure yet but we’ll see how it goes.”

The sky may seem to be falling in Pantherland with the franchise quarterback being unable to throw deep and with Monday’s defensive coaching shakeup, but the reality is that Carolina is still very much in the mix for its four playoff appearance in five years. If some very possible outcomes occur—Carolina beats Cleveland, Philadelphia beats Dallas, Rams beat Chicago and Minnesota beats Seattle—here’s what the NFC will look like: Chicago (8-5), Minnesota (7-5-1) and then Carolina, Philadelphia, Dallas and Seattle all knotted at 7-6 with three games left.

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