Last year, he was the league MVP.
His team won 15 times. He threw for 35 touchdowns. A year ago, Cam Newton was golden.
This year, not so much. This year, Newton’s Carolina Panthers team has won six times. His team has been eliminted from the playoffs. He’s thrown for 15 scores.
Ah, but to the Tampa Bay Bucs, Newton is still Newton.
“I don’t think you ever really appreciate how big he is,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “Jameis (Winston) is a big man, Cam dwarfs Jameis. Cam is a big, big man and a tremendous athlete.
“He can sit there in the pocket. It’s hard to knock him down, even if you get there. He has a great arm, really throws the deep ball well and if you don’t do a great job of keeping him in the pocket, he’s capable – I’ve been on the wrong side of it – he’s capable of beating you with your legs, either on scramble runs or designed runs. Now, they haven’t been doing quite as many designed runs, but ask any defensive coach or player in the league and a quarterback who can beat you both ways is one of the most difficult things to face.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith says there is still one element to defending Newton…late nights.
“Lots of sleepless nights (laughter),” Smith said. “I’ve had lots of them in years past and this week as well. He’s a unique athlete. He’s 6’5”, 260 pounds, he’s hard to get down.
“You say, ‘Okay, you’re going to put a spy on him,’ well, who’re you going to spy him with? Spy him with a guy that runs as fast as him, he’s going to be six or seven inches shorter and 45, 50, or 60 pounds less than him. So, it’s a dynamic that you have to account for and you have to change it up, you can’t do it the same way. He’s a guy that is not running the ball as much, but his per average is still good on his rush attempts. You have to account for the quarterback in this offense and I think (Carolina Offensive Coordinator) Mike Shula does a great job, in terms of putting Cam in situations where he can succeed and put a lot of stress on the defense.”
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy says that Newton is still a star, even in last place.
“Cam is Cam,” McCoy said. “You don’t win MVP for not being great at what you do. People kill me sometimes with expecting everything to be identical as the year before. This is the best players in the world. Year in and year out, it’s hard to be the same. So, you are going to have up and down seasons. Is Cam still the same guy? Yeah, he is. He didn’t have the season he had last year. He won MVP last year, so if he doesn’t win MVP this year, then that means he didn’t have the same season, you know? But, he’s still Cam, man. In my opinion, he’s still the best escape artist because of his size, speed, his agility, he can make all the throws and if you let him get on a roll, he will kill you. He loves the game. I think sometimes people confuse his passion for anger or being frustrated.
“He’s just very passionate. If you want to win when things are not going your way, you get upset because you want to win. So, he’s just a very passionate guy and I respect him for that.”
McCoy said the NFL needs Newton’s personality.
“I hate using the word flamboyant, but he is just very outgoing and is very animated and he is a character, but you need characters. Even how he dresses, his style, all of that, you need that in this league,” McCoy said. “In the NBA, NHL, all these other leagues, you need guys like Cam Newton. He’s a generous guy too man. The kids love him. He is giving out footballs when they score and stuff. He’s one of those guys that he loves the game so much that once he gets on a roll and you start seeing that smile come out, that’s when you know you’re in trouble, so we’re going to need to limit those smiles, man. We’ve got to limit those smiles on Sunday.”
The Bucs play the Panthers at 1 p.m.