Cam Newton has had a week.
It started with one of the worst afternoons of his football life. It’s about to end with one of the most important of his football life. The days in between have left a veteran quarterback evaluating everything about that football life, from what went wrong in a blowout loss to San Francisco to what can be fixed in a crucial division game in Buffalo, from how it felt to be benched for such a poor performance to how he’s learning what it means to be in the crucible of New England sports.
“This whole week, starting on Sunday from the first quarter, was a humbling experience,” Newton said Thursday.
“Getting a tap on the shoulder [to come out of the game] was a humbling experience. Saying hey, we’re thinking about — that’s all humbling. I’m not used to that. So now I’m at a crossroads that says hey, if you don’t pick up your play then that’s going to be a permanent decision.”
Newton’s comments during his weekly Zoom call with reporters were detailed and candid, revealing a player driven to pull the Patriots out of their three-game losing funk, a streak of futility that hasn’t happened in New England in 18 years, and just happens to coincide with Newton’s own struggles. After a victorious debut that featured his impressive running ability and a disappointing but encouraging loss in Week 2 that saw him keep up with Russell Wilson’s arm, Newton’s New England story took an unexpected turn south.
He tested positive for COVID-19. He missed a game against the defending Super Bowl champs. And the quarterback who returned to the field hasn’t been the same, seen last Sunday bouncing one pass into the dirt, completing three to the wrong team, and all but ignoring the entire right side of the field. To be fair, the rest of the Patriots haven’t looked so hot either, seemingly losing a wide receiver a day (N’Keal Harry went down early against the 49ers, Julian Edelman joined the idled list after knee surgery this past week) while showing signs of age, injury, and opt-out absence everywhere.
But the focus is on Newton, and if there’s one thing 10 years in the NFL has taught us, he’s not a man to shrink from attention. That ability to withstand the spotlight has a lot more to do with the fabulous game-day attire (hats included) Newton wears than anything some dope like Jeff Garcia suggests. Oh yeah, Newton’s bad week also included a vicious, unprovoked attack by the former 49ers QB-turned television blowhard, who somehow connected Newton’s unique sartorial choices with his performance on the field.
Garcia screaming that Newton shouldn’t have entered the postgame interview portal in his signature Sunday-best attire, that he should have skulked off in the laundry cart or something because he played so poorly, doesn’t even make sense. Was Newton supposed to ditch the outfit he arrived at the stadium wearing and exchange it for sweats and flip flops because he had a bad day?
Credit Newton for taking the high road. “When you played the way I played this week — terrible — you open the doors,” he said. “When that happens you open up a whole reservoir, so to speak, of different people kind of attacking you.”
It’s obvious he gets it, just as he gets the level of expectation he walked into when he signed with New England. Asked what this experience has taught him so far, Newton offered a perfect answer, complete with proper emphasis, well-placed pauses, and the actual use of the word “expletive.”
“Losing is not acceptable in this locker room, in this county, in this state, in this area, in this region. So, Cameron Newton, you need to pick your expletive up,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve learned.”
Yet more important than listening to voices outside of the team, Newton has been meticulous in listening to those within, to his coaches Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Jedd Fisch, but taking their advice only so far as it can prepare him to play. Once the kickoff comes, he’s on his own. And he has to be better, acknowledging how much faster he needs to be in his decision-making. In a way, he needs to think less, play more.
“These last two games, it’s been one thing after another, that I’ve been more thinking than playing and reaction, what I pride myself on doing,” he said.
But he can’t do it alone, much as he might like to take the burden off everyone else.
“Everything now for me is just taking ownership,” he said. “Not pressing, though. When I say that, and when people hear it, they say, ‘Oh my God, Cam’s just about to start doing too much.’ Heck no. It’s just about taking pride in the little things and doing a little better … taking full ownership of this offense.”
As Belichick said, “Individually, if each of us can do a little more, do a better job, be more productive, then cumulatively that’s going to help our team. But somebody that wants to improve and address an area that hasn’t been as productive or you want to be more productive than what it’s been in the past I think is a good thing. I mean, we’re all doing that. I know the coaching staff is doing it, I’m doing it, I know our players are doing it, and honestly, I think that’s what we should be doing. We should be trying to improve, put more into it, find a way to be more productive. That’s our job. So, I think Cam’s definitely doing that, and hopefully we’ll all be able to improve and have better results.”
No better tonic after the week that was.