Cam Newton was benched in the fourth quarter last night, and rightfully so — he looked awful, and has for a while.
However, there might be something going on with Cam that we aren’t privy to.
Over the first three weeks of the season, Cam looked like Cam. He was running effectively, making good decisions, and seemed to be the dynamic playmaker we remembered in Carolina. He wasn’t lighting it up from a passing perspective, but it was serviceable. The Patriots were 2-1. Then, after Week 3, Cam tested Positive for COVID-19. He missed two games, and his return to action after that was underwhelming.
Here are his stats from the first three weeks of the season compared to the games since returning from COVID:
69.3% completion percentage
11.7 rush attempts/g
49.7 rushing yards/g
1.33 rushing TD/g
63.0% completion percentage
8.66 rush attempts/g
33.55 rushing yards/g
.77 rushing TD/g
Potentially inflating those first three weeks was his game against Seattle, where he posted a season-high 397 passing yards. However, in the games since he returned, he has also faced the Houston Texans and the New York Jets.
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On multiple occasions, Cam has refused to blame his performance on his positive COVID test, but he has made a few statements that raise eyebrows.
In an interview on “The Greg Hill Show” on WEEI back in October, after throwing for five interceptions and zero touchdowns in his first two games back, Newton said, “The energy has definitely been off for me and at times it’s not rewarding when you’re just going out there with this aura about yourself that’s not you.”
On top of that, when addressing the media on Nov. 18, Newton said, “Ever since coming back from corona, to be honest with you, I felt stagnant in my thought process. The plays’ pre-snap production wasn’t happening fast enough for me in games. Did it happen in practice? Yeah. But still not fast enough. And even still now, I can get better.”
According to multiple reports, Newton apparently did not have any symptoms from his positive COVID test, and he has directly said it has nothing to do with COVID. “No, it’s nothing [related to COVID], it’s just the fact that I wasn’t able to do anything for that stint while I was off, and it showed.” If that was the case though, wouldn’t we expect his performance to be improving now that it’s been over two months since he missed time?
It hasn’t. Yes, I know, the Rams defense is ridiculously good and they generated a ton of pressure last night, so let’s look back a couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, against the Arizona Cardinals, Cam threw for only 84 yards and two interceptions with zero touchdowns. That is simply not the production you would expect from a starting quarterback in the NFL.
We still don’t know the long-term effects of COVID, or why it impacts certain people more severely than others. Cam reported having no symptoms, while Freddie Freeman, first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, was so heavily impacted by his battle with COVID that he prayed, “Please don’t take me.” Freeman returned to the lineup two weeks later and went on to win the National League MVP.
Cam Newton does not look the same as he did at the start of the season, and the only thing that can be pointed at is a positive COVID test. I don’t know how COVID is impacting Cam — none of us do, and Freeman is the prime example of that incomprehension — but it sure looks like it is. Cam never won with his arm — it was with his athleticism. It looks like the decline for Cam is arriving, and is being expedited by his bout with COVID. He should no longer be viewed as a no-doubt starting quarterback in the NFL.