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Blame this one on Cam Newton if you want — he struggled so much that he got benched in the fourth quarter.
But that’s too simplistic. The rest of the Carolina Panthers were just as awful in a nasty 33-10 road loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
More bad news: Christian McCaffrey tweaked his left ankle in the second quarter and didn’t play again after that. With the oft-injured McCaffrey on the shelf once again, Carolina’s offense looked torpid, like it was having a Thanksgiving hangover three days late.
This was very much a team defeat, one that dropped Carolina to 5-7. For example:
On Carolina’s very first possession, wide receiver DJ Moore dropped two passes that hit him directly in the hands. The drops forced a punt.
Then the Dolphins tricked Carolina on special teams with a new punt-block scheme that allowed one Dolphin player to come completely free — it appeared rookie Chuba Hubbard blocked the wrong player — and almost take the ball off Panther punter Lachlan Edwards’ foot. The ball was recovered for a Miami touchdown and a quick 7-0 Dolphins lead.
All that came before Newton threw interceptions on consecutive passes, making bad decisions on two intermediate routes. He finished a horrid 5-of-21 passing for 92 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Newton’s overall QB rating was 5.8, a career-low for the 11-year veteran in his 143rd NFL game. He also set a career-low in completion percentage (23.8%). Carolina is now 0-2 with Newton as a starter this season.
To be fair, Newton was getting blasted on lots of plays by Miami’s excellent defensive line, and he had at least four passes dropped. Still, he also was inaccurate on numerous throws.
Fox Sports analyst Daryl Johnston was wondering by the second quarter if the Panthers would bench Newton and give backup P.J. Walker a chance and began openly campaigning for the change on the TV broadcast in the third quarter.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule did make that switch early in the fourth quarter, but the results weren’t a lot different. Walker got sacked on his very first play when offensive tackle Taylor Moton got run over, and then again on his fourth play. On his fifth play, scrambling left, he threw an across-his-body interception. On his second and final drive, Walker had more time and threw the ball much better, getting Carolina to the red zone before that drive was undone by a third-down sack.
Miami (5-7) won its fourth straight game after starting 1-7. The Panthers, meanwhile, are going in the other direction. At least they are guaranteed not to lose again next Sunday — but only because they have a bye. Rhule said after the game he didn’t plan any changes at starting QB, which means Newton should start Dec. 12 at home against Atlanta.
Penalties hurt again
The Panthers came into the game leading the NFL in penalties following last week’s game, and they acquitted themselves poorly in this one, too (seven penalties, 61 yards). Among the critical calls vs. Carolina: A holding penalty on Michael Jordan, a delay of game against Newton, a hold on Pat Elflein to nullify a 16-yard run and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting on Haason Reddick that gave Miami a red-zone first down.
Reddick called his flag “completely unacceptable” and said: “I should never let that happen.”
▪ The Panthers knew Miami would blitz constantly but Carolina never could seem to handle it. Carolina had a 64-yard completion from Newton to Moore in the first quarter, but that was it. Newton’s other 20 pass attempts netted a total of 28 yards before he was benched. Miami had five sacks.
▪ Defensive end Brian Burns gave an impassioned lecture to Carolina’s defense after it allowed another TD to fall behind 27-10. It didn’t help. Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa (27 for 31, 230 yards, 87% completion rate) dinked and dunked the Panthers all day long, and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle had a 137-yard receiving day.
▪ Why do the Panthers fair-catch punts inside their own 10?
▪ Rookie Phil Hoskins, a seventh-round draft choice, made an athletic sack for his first big NFL play.
▪ The Panthers had one drive go so badly they faced a fourth-and-34 at the end of it.
▪ Offensive tackle Trent Scott should have gotten an assist on Newton’s rushing TD, as he helped lug him into the end zone.
▪ Rhule has called a fake punt in a few games but not gotten the look that the Panthers wanted. This time the Panthers kept it on and it worked early in the third quarter. Still, Carolina had to punt four plays later.
▪ One of the worst play calls from offensive coordinator Joe Brady had to be on third-and-1 in the third quarter. Instead of a QB sneak with Newton, Carolina tried to run an option with Ameer Abdullah and Chuba Hubbard that was completely smothered. And why doesn’t Brady get Newton to roll out more instead of standing like a statue in the pocket?