Cam Newton looked sharp in his gray tuxedo with a perfect bow tie, pocket square and cool-for-cats black top hat. But there was a blank expression in his eyes as he navigated a 90-second exchange with reporters that included a couple of “next question”s and a quick exit stage left. That was about a minute shorter than his sullen press conference in the hoodie after the Super Bowl in February, but the message was the same. That season was lost, and this one most likely is, too.
Neither of those was a good look for Newton, but at this point, you have to empathize with the Saddest Football Player in America.
Newton, who missed last week’s loss to Tampa Bay with a concussion, brought the Panthers back from a 21-0 deficit to tie the Saints at 38 with 2:58 to play. His final acts were a 2-yard touchdown run, on which he dove head first over the pylon, and a two-point conversion pass to Devin Funchess. But Newton left Drew Brees a little too much time. After setting an NFL record with his 15th career 400-yard passing game, Brees put Wil Lutz in position for the 52-yard field goal that won it for the Saints 41-38.
With the loss, the Panthers became the first Super Bowl participant to start the following season 1-5 since 2004, when this same Carolina franchise started 1-7 before battling to a 7-9 record.
It’s hard to blame Newton for his outward disappointment. It’s been a hell of a year so far, emphasis on “hell.”
He took some unpenalized head shots in the opener in Denver, was sacked eight times by the Vikings and suffered a concussion against the Falcons. Beyond his lack of protection, the real problem with the Panthers has been the defense. They are giving up 29 points per game after cutting loose Josh Norman, their best defensive player last season.
“Offense gave us a shot to win the game,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “As a defense, we didn’t get it done.”
The Panthers got a break late Sunday afternoon, when the Falcons lost 26-24 at Seattle. Atlanta had come back from 17-3 down to take a 24-17 lead but could not hold it, the game ending with coach Dan Quinn running up the sideline screaming in an official’s ear for a pass-interference call on the final fourth-down pass. Even with that, the Falcons have a three-game lead plus the tiebreaker over Carolina.
“It’s no one individual’s fault. It is everyone’s fault. This is a team game,” wide receiver Ted Ginn said. “And we are real down right now. We’ve just got to keep fighting, man, and that’s what it is all about. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure it out, and I am sure we will do that.”
Don’t be so sure. The Panthers are tied with the Bears and 49ers for the worst record in the NFC. There currently are 10 teams in the conference at 3-3 or better, so a wild-card berth already is unlikely, even with 10 games to go.
Steelers lose Big Ben
Ben Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in Sunday’s 30-15 loss to the Dolphins. He will have surgery Monday, reported Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook, and will miss next Sunday’s home game against the Patriots. The Steelers then have their bye, and although there’s no timetable for Big Ben’s return, there already is speculation he will miss only the one game. That wouldn’t be too much of a surprise, considering how he came back to play on the injured leg Sunday.
With Pittsburgh up 8-6 midway through the second quarter, Roethlisberger scrambled to his right, and his left knee buckled as he was swiped by Jordan Phillips. Big Ben got away, but his pass was intercepted by a diving Reshad Jones. From there, it was all Dolphins. Roethlisberger returned for the start of the second half but promptly threw an interception and ended up with a scant 189 yards passing.
“We are all out there playing through pain and won’t make excuses,” Roethlisberger said after the game but before getting the diagnosis.
Landry Jones is next man up for the Steelers and is expected to start against Tom Brady.
Don’t do it, Jerry
OK, it’s time to say it. Jerry Jones, do not even think about putting Tony Romo in the lineup when he’s healthy enough to return. Dak Prescott is now 5-1 with a five-game winning streak after the Cowboys’ 30-16 tour-de-force victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than go into [the] last half of the season with a ready-to-go Tony Romo and a winning Dak Prescott,” Jones told ESPN afterward. “I dream of being able to make that decision. We are not there yet by the way. We are not there.”
Jones’ words sound like a backtrack from last week, when he announced Romo still is the No. 1 quarterback. Before the game, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that although the plan had been to start Romo vs. the Eagles in two weeks after the Cowboys’ bye, they now will wait until the veteran is “a hundred, thousand, million percent ready to go when he’s back.”
Prescott completed 18-of-27 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns and broke Tom Brady’s record for most passes at the start of a career without an interception. Prescott finally was picked off on his 176th pass by Morgan Burnett,
The chemistry with fellow rookie, running back Ezekiel Elliott, is unmistakable. Elliott reeled off 157 yards on 28 carries as he and Prescott protected the ball, ran the clock and kept the defense fresh to fend off Aaron Rodgers and the potent Packers with one interception and three fumble recoveries.
Long live Dak.
The Rams took a page from Greg Schiano’s book of sore losing by driving the Lions’ offensive line back into Matthew Stafford’s knee and injured center Travis Swanson on a victory-formation kneel with 1:02 to go. With 30 seconds to go, both lines then fired hard off the ball, leading to a scuffle.
“I mean, I wasn’t real fired up about what happened on the first one,” Stafford said. “We took the second knee. I’m sure that didn’t feel any better for them. So I just let them know how I felt about it.”
What the Rams did is not illegal but never appreciated, particularly when the defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) has BountyGate in his past.
Play of the Day
The Jaguars were trailing the Bears 16-7 with 8:28 to go, edged closer on a field goal and got the ball back with 3:18 left. Four plays later, Blake Bortles hit Arrelious Benn 15 yards downfield. Benn and Bears cornerback Tracy Porter both fell down, but Benn got up untouched and ran the remaining 36 yards for his first touchdown in five years and Jacksonville’s first road win in October in six seasons.
You’ve got the Titans giving minus-7 at home against the Browns, and you take a 28-13 lead on a touchdown catch by Anthony Fasano with 6:43 to go. Cleveland scores a touchdown on a catch by Terrelle Pryor with 2:07, but you’re still covering when the Browns fail on a two-point conversion. As you’re heading to the window, you see Cleveland recover the onside kick, and nine plays later, Duke Johnson runs it in to turn the bet with 27 seconds on the clock.
The Texans scored two touchdowns in the final 2:37 to send the Sunday night game into overtime, then beat the Colts on Nick Novak’s field goal after a deep ball from Brock Osweiler to Jaelen Strong. Don’t forget, the Colts did not take a bye week after their trip to London. They outlasted the Bears last week but wilted late here. Could have been a delayed reaction.
Brady threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in his return to Foxborough after the Deflategate suspension. All three scores and 277 of the yards went to either tight ends or running backs, with Rob Gronkowski accounting for 162 yards and a touchdown and James White 47 yards and two scores.
The Chiefs overcame a heavy downpour and a Raiders touchdown on the opening series and raced to a 26-10 win at the Black Hole. Andy Reid improved to 15-2 in the week after a bye, and he clearly used that time well. The Chiefs lined up 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe in the backfield, then shifted him out behind a three-receiver bunch. Alex Smith passed to Poe, who put his head down and bulled into the end zone.
Case Keenum completed a Rams-record 20 passes in a row in a 31-28 loss at Detroit. It’s hard to lose when your quarterback completes 27-of-32 for 321 yards and three touchdowns, but that’s what happened to L.A. as Keenum’s last pass ended up in the hands of Lions safety Rafael Bush. It was the second game-saving interception in as many weeks for the Detroit secondary after Darius Slay did it to the Eagles’ Carson Wentz.
1. LeSean McCoy, Bills RB
The real Shady ran through the 49ers for 140 yards on just 19 carries and scored touchdowns of 4, 12 and 18 yards to lead the Bills to their fourth victory in a row.
2. Drew Brees, Saints QB
Brees needed every one of his 34 completions, 465 yards passing and four touchdowns to put the Saints in position to beat the Panthers on a field goal with 0:12 to go.
3. Jay Ajayi, Dolphins RB
Jay who? Nobody’s asking that anymore after Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns. He put the game against the Steelers away with a 62-yard runaway.
He said what?
“It makes a big difference when you have holes and the quarterback is not on his back.” — Coach Adam Gase after the Dolphins put up 474 yards of offense, including 204 yards rushing by Jay Ajayi, in a 30-15 victory over the Steelers
*I would rather get burned by a do-nothing stud in my lineup than have him have a breakout game while he is on my bench. That’s why, just a couple weeks ago, when inquisitive fantasy owners were asking if they should bench slow-starting Julio Jones, I said no. He then exploded for 300 yards and a score in Week 4. This past week, there were many questions about Odell Beckham Jr., and I gave the same answer for the same reasons. Now, 222 yards and two touchdowns later, I again feel vindicated.
* Jay Ajayi had a total of 103 rushing yards through the first five weeks combined. He had 204 (with two TDs) Sunday against a Steelers run defense that the Madman must admit we have overrated to this point. The RB position is ridiculously slim, so if you can find Ajayi on the waiver wire, jump on him. Bid high because he is going to have much better upside than the free-agent alternatives. Just temper your expectations. Arian Foster will return eventually, and Ajayi does play on an remarkably inconsistent Dolphins offense. Think of Ajayi as a solid bye-week filler.
* There was a Golden Tate sighting Sunday. The Lions receiver, invisible for virtually the entire season, hauled in one touchdown Sunday and had another — a 62-yarder — taken off the board. Tate fell to the ground inside the 5-yard line while hauling in a long bomb from QB Matthew Stafford. It appeared he got up untouched and stumbled into the end zone. Upon review, it was determined a defender grazed Tate’s foot, no TD. He finished with eight catches for 165 yards and a score. With a fleet of running backs the Lions can’t keep healthy and a tight end who rarely takes the field, expect Tate’s role to be more stable in the weeks ahead.
– Drew Loftis