With a sixth-straight loss on Monday night, the Panthers are on the brink of sealing a playoff-less season. They haven't won a football game since Nov. 4. Despite a 6-2 start, it's now mathematically impossible for them to finish above .500. And Cam Newton, the engine of their offense, clearly isn't healthy.
We've known about his Newton finally opened up about the injury that has derailed both his and the team's season. In the process, he acknowledged that there's a chance they could decide to shut him down for the final two weeks of the season.. But it wasn't until after the latest loss -- , during which Newton looked off once again -- that
"I guess if we have to have that conversation, we have that conversation," Newton said, per the Charlotte Observer. "I'm not looking forward to that conversation."
As for the injury itself, Newton said he doesn't have "the strength" or "the range of motion." And there's no magic fix. He's done everything possible to improve it.
"It doesn't matter how much you push," he said. "Ice, anti-inflammatories you take ... I mean, trust me, I did it. Acupuncture. Massages. It's just not been a time that (a) night has gone by without me getting some type of work done on my arm."
You can sense how frustrating the experience has been both through his comments and just by taking a look at his game logs. In games 1-8, Newton completed 67.3 percent of his passes, averaged 7.2 yards per pass, threw 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, and posted a 100.8 passer rating. In games 9-14, Newton completed 68.8 percent of his passes and averaged 7.2 yards per attempt, but threw nine touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 85.9 passer rating. The Panthers went 6-2 in those first eight games. They've gone 0-6 since.
"I think the thing, when you talk to different people who can help you with it, is that there's not any magical surgery or whatever. It's just time," Newton said. "I've tried and done everything. I think the frustration comes from, no matter what you do, you can rub magic dust on it, you can go to this person, go to that person. ...
"Then you just come out, and it's still the same. ...
"I've been eager to go to (head trainer Ryan Vermillion's) office, weeks and weeks and weeks and kind of find out what it is. 'Did you find something? What am I supposed to do? What do we have to do?'
"And then, it is what it is. It is what we expected it to be. ... The same way. It's not getting better, it's not getting worse. It is what it was, just a lot of soreness and tension in the joints."
Anyone watching the Panthers on a weekly basis can see that Newton looks off. But according to Newton, his struggles aren't just about the injury itself. It's also about how the injury has forced him to surrender practice reps.
"I think the frustration comes when you do any and everything to make sure your body is at peak performance," he said. "Obviously my arm has not allowed me to do a lot of practice. Been on a pitch count for a long time. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. That's not a scapegoat. That's not something I want people to bail me out on. It's just reality."
Now, the Panthers have a decision to make. At 6-8, their season is likely over. To sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team, they'll need to beat the Falcons and Saints (in New Orleans) to close out the season, and then get some help. They can't catch the 8-6 Seahawks because they already lost to them in Week 12. They can catch the 7-6-1 Vikings for the sixth and final seed in the NFC, but they need the Vikings to lose out. Not to mention, there are two NFC East teams, the Eagles and Redskins, positioned between the Panthers and the sixth seed. It's a long shot.
It's becoming increasingly clear the Panthers should probably prioritize Newton's health over any distant playoff hopes. The Panthers are only as good as Newton and right now, Newton isn't any good because he's clearly affected by that shoulder. No one likes giving up on a season and playing for next year, but that might be the Panthers' only option as they head into the final two weeks of the season. Shoulder issues aren't foreign to Newton,. It's been a lingering issue. Eliminating the issue should probably take precedence over the final two games of the season.
Cam Newton isn't right right now. The Panthers should probably prioritize getting him right before chasing impossible playoff dreams.