Where's the quarterback's once-vaunted deep ball?
In Sunday's season-opening loss to the Rams, Newton threw just one pass that traveled 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and that was a misfire to an open Curtis Samuel. And because Newton's 37 other attempts were of the short or intermediate variety, there were queries afterward about why he never seemed to try to stretch the defense.
But it's fair to wonder about Newton's deep ball, considering he's nine months removed from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder. Plus, the last time we saw him in the regular season, he clearly was having trouble getting vertical. Yet on Tuesday, he reiterated the main reason he didn't open things up against the Rams was that the opportunities weren't there.
"If it's going to hinder us from winning, I don't want to throw it. But if it's going to make us win," Newton said Tuesday before morphing into his impression of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, "'Oh, baby,' you better throw some doggone deep balls."
As much as it's fair to wonder, it's also understandable if Newton is beginning to get irked about this line of questioning. He is, after all, an NFL quarterback and it's sort of in the job description to be able to go deep.
"You're only asking because of my shoulder," Newton said. "How 'bout this, talk to the defensive coordinator for Tampa and don't think I can throw the ball over 20 yards and see where that gets you. How 'bout that?"
Unfortunately, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles already had his media availability by the time Newton talked Tuesday. But head coach Bruce Arians did follow shortly on a conference call with Carolina reporters.
"I don't think there's any doubt about it or he wouldn't be playing," Arians said when asked if he thought Newton could still air it out. "He's got all his tools. He's ready to go."
In their Week 1 loss, the Bucs did a decent job against 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, limiting him to 166 yards on 27 attempts. Of those, he was 1-for-2 on passes that traveled 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage, but the one he hit on was a 39-yard touchdown to wideout Richie James. So that's too small of a sample size to tell if this is the week Newton and the Panthers can truly test his game downfield, and at least publicly, he won't admit it's something he's itching to prove he can do.
"Man, I just want to win. I just want to win in the worst way," Newton said. "I don't care if I throw a ball at all. If I'm handing the ball off to C-Mac or whoever, I just want to win."
Clearly, handing off to Christian McCaffrey will remain a big part of the Panthers' game plan. Getting him the ball however they can will be. Through the first slate of games, McCaffrey ranks second in the NFL with 128 rushing yards and third with 10 receptions.
"I think Coach got CMac up for fantasy this week," Newton joked. "I think that's what it is! Doggone Norv picked C-Mac for fantasy. I should've went over and seen who he was drafting in his league. That's probably why we aren't doing any deep passes, right? Cause he ain't pick me for his quarterback. Now it's all making sense.
"I was wondering why Coach kept calling those Wildcat plays. I'm about to go check with Coach right now. I could've scored, really, without the Wildcat addition. He just didn't want me to score. Coach been holding me back."
Joking aside, it will likely make many in the fan base feel more comfortable if they see Newton attempt to air out at least one ball on Thursday night. But because these things also depend on play calls and who's open where, they're not that simple.
"I'm all for it. I just can't stress enough — you just can't throw the ball in the heavens and expect it to be caught," Newton said.
And for his part, Arians wouldn't mind if the question about whether Newton can still go deep lingers for another week:
"I don't want to find out in a game."