Cam Newton had just scored a rushing touchdown and was in a celebratory mood. He grabbed the football back from one of his teammates, headed over toward the stands and softly tossed it toward someone he spotted in the seats.
It bounced off about a half-dozen sets of hands.
Even in happy moments, accuracy was an issue for Newton Sunday.
By the numbers, Newton played the worst game of his NFL life. He was 5 of 21 passing for 92 yards — 64 of those coming on one play — and finished with a career-worst 5.8 quarterback rating in Carolina’s 33-10 loss to the Dolphins.
“This is the NFL. Nothing’s promised,” Newton said. “Just because Cam Newton’s on your roster doesn’t mean you’re just going to win. Just because it’s a feel-good story doesn’t mean you’re going to win. I’m well aware of that. I think in this situation we all have to come to grips with who we are and I’m putting blame on myself first before I can even look at somebody else. I have to be better. I know that.”
It was the 10th consecutive loss by the Panthers in games Newton starts, a drought that goes back to November 2018. They’ve lost seven of their past nine games overall, and the feel-good story of Newton returning to Carolina didn’t feel so good Sunday.
The Dolphins couldn’t even believe Newton’s numbers, when told postgame he was held to five completions.
“Damn,” said Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, who had one of the Dolphins’ three interceptions. “He was getting a little frustrated. I feel like our defense, we did that to him and we’ve got to feed off that. We’ve got to get every quarterback to feel like that.”
Newton had a pair of first-half interceptions, one of which led to a Miami touchdown, and the Panthers wound up getting into a 21-7 hole quickly.
Newton was 3 for 15 at halftime for 81 yards and went into the break with a quarterback rating of 10.0. There had been 238 instances this season of a quarterback throwing at least 15 passes by halftime; of those, the worst halftime rating before Sunday was a 17.8 by Sam Darnold — also of Carolina — against Minnesota Oct. 17.
Things didn’t get any better from there. Newton got pulled with the game basically decided, since he still isn’t overly comfortable with the schemes the Panthers try to use in two-minute and comeback situations. P.J. Walker came in and finished the game, going 5 for 10 passing for 87 yards.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he wasn’t making any snap judgments about the game until he reviews film, and stopped way short of putting the loss on Newton.
“I’m not making any changes or anything like that right now,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day we weren’t protecting the quarterback worthwhile at all. Didn’t seem fair to keep Cam in there and keep getting hit.”
Carolina allowed five sacks, gave up 111 rushing yards — the Panthers are now 0-7 when allowing more than 82 of those in a game this season — and managed only 10 first downs and 198 total yards. And the team that came into the week leading the NFL in penalties got flagged seven more times Sunday, many of them costly.
Turnovers stopped Colts
Colts coach Frank Reich knew immediately what the problem was Sunday.
So did quarterback Carson Wentz.
Five turnovers, four in the second half, and abandoning their run-first approach proved too much to overcome against the defending Super Bowl champions.
“Ultimately, when you make that many mistakes against a good football team, it’s going to come back and haunt you,” Reich said moments after Tampa Bay rallied for a 38-31 victory.
The ramifications from this loss could be lasting.
After winning five of six to climb above .500 and back into playoff contention, the Colts (6-6) failed to close the gap with division-leading Tennessee losing to New England. They also watched some other wild-card contenders jump ahead.
And it all seemed to change in an instant when the Colts were about to seize control.
Wentz had closed out the first-half scoring with a 4-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton on fourth-and-1, giving Indy a 24-14 lead. Then Wentz opened the second half by moving the Colts moving into position to potentially take a three-score lead.
That’s when Bucs linebacker Shaquil Barrett shot up the field, jarred the ball loose from Wentz and recovered the ball at the Tampa Bay 35-yard line. Six plays later, Leonard Fournette scored for the third time to make it 24-21.
Coach Bruce Arians sensed the momentum swing right away.
“We felt like if we were going to stop the run and make him throw it 40 times, we’d get a few [takeaways] and we did,” he said. “That strip-sack, I think, changed the whole ballgame.”
From there, things went downhill fast for Indy.
The Colts essentially abandoned their run-first approach as Wentz dropped back on 26 straight snaps, making it more challenging to put the ball in their hands of their top playmaker, running back Jonathan Taylor. Afterward, even Wentz acknowledged he didn’t realize he had run so many consecutive passing plays.
It was all by design.
Tampa Bay (8-3) dared the Colts to pass and Wentz did, throwing 44 times. He was picked off twice and lost a fumble.
Taylor, the league’s leading rusher, had 17 carries for 83 yards and one score and caught four passes for 14 yards. But until Indy’s final drive, Taylor had only 25 yards rushing.
COVID-19 infections on rise for Cowboys
The Cowboys are going virtual with meetings leading into Thursday’s game at New Orleans with COVID-19 infections on the rise again within the team.
Right tackle Terence Steele was among the positive COVID-19 tests and won’t play against the Saints, coach Mike McCarthy said.
Offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant strength and conditioning coach Kendall Smith, who missed the Thanksgiving Day loss to Las Vegas after testing positive, won’t make the trip to New Orleans.
Three more members of the staff will be out against the Saints in strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash Jr., assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko and offensive assistant Scott Tolzien.
The Cowboys will be missing members of their staff because of the coronavirus for the third time in four games. Running backs coach Skip Peete was out against Atlanta Nov. 14.
The NFL implemented more stringent testing and other protocols for the days after Thanksgiving. McCarthy said the club had been testing daily since Saturday.
Ex-Bears star Hampton arrested for drunken driving
Former Bears defensive lineman Dan Hampton, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, has been arrested in Indiana for allegedly driving a vehicle while drunk.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana said Hampton was arrested Nov. 20 on a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Winfield, where he lives. Winfield is about 50 miles from Chicago.
Hampton bonded out of jail the next morning after bail was set at $25,000.
Hampton, 64, played for the Bears from 1979, when was drafted with the fourth overall pick, until 1990. He was a member of the Bears’ Super Bowl-winning team following the 1985 season.