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Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule realized shortly after Carolina's 24-6 loss to New England on Sunday that they'd need some help at quarterback.

Then the MRI came back on Sam Darnold's shoulder and showed he'd miss at least a month and maybe longer. So Tuesday night, Cam Newton got a call from the organization he once lifted to national relevance. On Wednesday night, they started talking money and arranged travel back to Charlotte.

On Thursday, Newton was back at Bank of America Stadium. He walked the field to the end zone, knelt at the goal post like he did during every pregame warmup from 2011 until his release in 2020 and said a prayer.

Cam Newton is back in Carolina because the Panthers believe they can make the playoffs. And David Tepper, now in his fourth season of Panthers ownership with three losing seasons already, has told people in the building that they have one goal and it is to make the playoffs this year.

Cam Newton is back in Carolina because the Panthers were desperate. Darnold wasn't their first (Matthew Stafford) or second (Deshaun Watson) choice in the offseason, but he was the veteran quarterback they believed they could nab. They, of course, were in that position because Teddy Bridgewater's poor play in the four-minute offense showed to Tepper that this team wouldn't compete for a playoff spot with the now-Denver QB.

And Cam Newton is back in Carolina because he wants to be. I'm told Newton was "eager to get back," according to a team source. He wasn't going to play for nothing, and the Panthers cap guru Samir Suleiman had to get creative with the one-year deal that will pay Newton up to $10 million if he can win them Super Bowl LVI.

Things between Newton and the team didn't end in flames. Breaking up is hard, and the Panthers probably want a redo on some things said and done in 2020. But the building didn't leak negative stories about Newton following his departure to try to explain his release. The story was simply: his shoulder isn't healthy, the team didn't want to roll the dice on it another year and it was probably time for a fresh start.

The relationship was always repairable; Carolina just had to pick up the phone.

In the past few weeks it's become clear that Darnold is a dud. In the past week it became clear the Panthers had to get Newton.

I won't be surprised if Newton is active Sunday against the Cardinals as either an emergency player or subbing in for some special packages. I'd expect Newton to have a decent enough understanding of the offense to provide a better alternative to P.J. Walker by next week, and he should be the starter when Carolina plays host to Washington in Week 11.

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Rodgers, Packers get off easy

If you read this column last week you weren't surprised by the light punishment received by Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers was docked $14,650 — and only $14,650 — for violating COVID-19 protocols. The league decided his violation was the Halloween party, whereas the team was fined $300,000 for all the maskless press conferences, plus the Halloween party. No suspension. No loss of draft picks. Not even $14,650 times the number of times he violated the policy.

It's because the league essentially said 'oopsies.' The NFL knew Rodgers was unvaccinated, just like the Packers knew he was unvaccinated. And they let him violate protocols in front of everyone, just like they allowed Kirk Cousins and several other unvaccinated players.

The league could only punish Rodgers so far because it, too, was culpable. And it gave a stern warning that it'll be much worse if the Packers or Rodgers keep messing up.

Moving forward, Rodgers will likely be on a Zoom or masked during in-person press conferences for the rest of the season.

Week 10 picks

I beat my previous week, but just barely in Week 9 with an 8-6 slate. That brings my season record up to 89-47. Those wacky games last week threw me, and I'll just have to be better this week. Of course I took the Ravens on Thursday.

Browns at Patriots

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

The Browns would be my pick if they had their complement of running backs for this game. But they'll be without Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and New England's defense is starting to round into Belichick Form. I still believe in Cleveland, just not in this one.

The pick: Patriots.

Saints at Titans

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

The past few weeks I've been banking on the Titans to be bested by fatigue. Either the fatigue of coming off a short week following a big win against the Bills, or the fatigue of an overtime game against a division rival, or just the roster fatigue after suffering the loss of Derrick Henry. They've won four straight against good-to-great teams. That won't stop now.

The pick: Titans

Eagles at Broncos

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

Denver's coming off a big surprise win last week against Dallas, and Philadelphia is surely going to give up high-percentage completions to Teddy Bridgewater. But I like what the Eagles' offense has started to do lately, and as long as Jalen Hurts doesn't turn the football over, I think they have a chance. I may regret this but …

The pick: Eagles

Seahawks at Packers

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

A game with big returns. The Return of Russell Wilson. The Return of Aaron Rodgers. As a Tar Heel, I've known for more than a decade to never bet against Russ. Even his doctor marvels at his supernatural ability.

The pick: Seahawks

Other games