We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Tommy Craggs
To: Josh Levin, Barry Petchesky
Speaking of Vick, here's a tweet I saw yesterday from Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times:
Reports are Vick argued with medical staff when pulled. That could be competitiveness. But maybe angry outburst triggered by concussion.
Ah, yes. Brain rage. Early-onset chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Instadementia. You know we are in full health-crisis mode when sportswriters are getting out their toy stethoscopes and offering long-distance, extra-sensory medical diagnoses based on second-hand information. Glad to see we're subjecting the concussions story to the same scientific rigor that had reporters convicting ballplayers of 'roiding on the evidence of their Topps cards.
Enough about injuries, though. Let's talk Cam Newton, who hung 432 yards on the Packers a week after racking up 422 against the Cardinals and who got me wondering what kind of national orgasm we'd have experienced last year had Tim Tebow accomplished in a full game what Newton did in Sunday's first quarter. The Panthers' first possession unfolded like a point-by-point rebuke of everything bad anyone had ever said about Newton's abilities. The first play from scrimmage had him rolling out to his right and throwing on the move, like a shortstop, to the deep corner, where tight end Jeremy Shockey merely had to run under the ball. This was soon followed by a slant to Steve Smith requiring both the timing and touch Newton was said to lack, and then a tricky play-action in which Smith was the only receiver to run a pattern, and Newton had to sling the ball across the field from somewhere in the Piedmonts. The Panthers eventually scored on a soft little fade that Newton lobbed off his back foot. He threw for 151 yards in all in that first quarter, and even if the mistakes started to pile up afterward—three very bad interceptions among them, not to mention a number of high throws that will one day get a receiver murdered—and even if ESPN's fancy new Total Quarterback Rating gewgaw came away wholly unimpressed, it was impossible not to appreciate all those molten gifts, here in just Newton's second game as an honest pro. At one point late in the fourth quarter, Newton danced out of pressure and, once again on the move, delivered a ball to Steve Smith that maybe four other quarterbacks in the NFL could throw. It traveled 60 yards in the air and left the color guy, Jim Mora, so discombobulated that he started talking in frisbee. "Hucks it," I believe he said.
It occurs to me now that we really don't know anything about Cam Newton. Projecting quarterback play is a shaky science already, and with Newton we had only a single season of major college ball to work with anyway. This is a rare event. We're so brutally over-informed about every aspect of every player in the NFL—hey, Terrelle Pryor scored a 7 on his Wonderlic!—that it's almost a relief to have an unknown quantity in our midst. For now, Newton's a quarterback to build a dream on. Keep hucking it, kid.