This is an image of this week’s most effective QB, Cam Newton. He is also the second most inexperienced QB of the week, since Andy Dalton didn’t finish off the Bengals’ win in Cleveland, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t inexperienced. And as we may find out over the next few weeks, inexperienced doesn’t mean he isn’t effective.
A lot goes into building a championship team, especially in football, with all the moving parts present. It is tough to create an atmosphere where 80 players and more coaches and personnel believe in 53 starters and role players to do the job to the best of their abilities, and there are most often a lot of kinks to work out after Week 1, many of which do not get solved, leading to a failed season. It is the responsibility of the coach and team leaders to address and eradicate these issues. This is what Steve Smith and Ron Rivera did this past week in the Carolina locker room.
It’s enough to say that the Panthers didn’t win, which is what we expected from them, despite a record breaking day for Cam Newton, Laptop Theif-turned-Heisman Winner-turned-National Champion-turned-#1 Pick-turned-Starting NFL Quarterback. To do that, however, is not an easy task. Carolina entered this season with the ultimate uncertainty of a rookie quarterback, a surefire way to avoid making the playoffs.
The standard protocol for this sort of situation is to take the prized rookie, and let him learn on the bench for a few years behind an aging veteran (one of the many currently in the league) before stepping out in his big boy shoes. Carolina does not have time for standard protocol. They tried this last year, drafting Jimmy Clausen early, to disastrous results (arguably more disastrous than his tenure at Notre Dame). They have no backup plan. They needed Cam Newton.
And Cam came, and delivered. He was not a wide eyed rookie trying to tune his game to the liking of the NFL, he wasn’t scrambling around because the defense was too fast. He was there, in the pocket, like he has always been. He stood there as he did at Auburn. He ran around, left the pocket. He set himself, tossed some bombs, and connected on short passes. He used his large stature to leave the pocket and account for a few rushing yards. Never straying from what makes Cam Newton who he is, he found Steve Smith for big yardage and big touchdowns, to the tune of 422yds and 2 TD.
This is not just Cam Newton being the definition of poise, though. His coach and wide receiver are the main culprits, in my opinion, for the big debut. Ron Rivera could have easily kept things to the status quo and started Clausen until he really you-know-what the bed, and then let Cam come in to receive adulation despite his performance. Instead, he looked Cam in the eye, and told him to go out there and do what he does best, and the rest of the team will be right there with him. They were, especially his veteran receiver Steve Smith, one of the most electric players in the NFL over the course of a long career.
Smith was there for Newton to the tune of 8 catches for 178 yards and both of Newton’s TDs. This is the kind of performance that begs for the public’s attention. This guy has been at the top of the game for years now, and his handling of a brand new, top pick quarterback shows exactly why. He knows how to be there, and he knows how to take a quarterback to new heights. A true pro.
So the future looks bright for Carolina, despite a Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, and a tough Week 2 matchup with the defending champion Green Bay Packers coming up. The wheels are in motion, and the right personnel is in place for a resurgence of the Panthers, and a serious attempt at competing in the very tough NFC South.