MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Two weeks ago in Arizona, it was a storybook first chapter of Cam Newton's return. Last week, he played well, but it ultimately didn't matter.
Sunday, the reality of a 32-year-old quarterback joining a team in midseason came crashing back.
Newton didn't make it through the end of his third game, pulled in the fourth quarter because backup PJ Walker had a better command of their two-minute offense. That laid bare some systemic issues that one player can't overcome, no matter who that player is.
That's why Newton said he planned to use the coming bye week to get himself more prepared for the final five games, so it didn't need to be this way.
"I would take this time to really dive into the whole offense," Newton said. "I think today it really got exposed because of the situation, and not having a full grasp.
"But it's not nobody to blame more so than just the situation that I came into. So having this week to kind of self-scout, so to speak, and really dive into the root of what this offense is about and that's what I plan on doing."
If he digs deep enough, he'll see some old problems, and a troubling new one.
Running back Christian McCaffrey left the game for good in the third quarter, after rolling his ankle. Without him, the entire offense was out of sync — not that they were in sync beforehand.
The Panthers offensive line allowed five sacks Sunday (Walker took four of them late), after only giving up two in the previous four games. But Newton was constantly under duress, and he wasn't able to overcome it.
Newton was 5-of-21 for 92 yards and two interceptions, putting the Panthers in an early hole they weren't capable of crawling out of.
"That was a bad throw. It was a bad throw," he said, describing the first one, a pass intended for Robbie Anderson that was picked off by safety Jevon Holland. "So before I can tell blame, it all starts with me. And that's just me holding myself accountable. Coach did say about one of the keys of the game is protecting the football and I put the ball in jeopardy too many times today.
"So from an offensive perspective, what I can speak on, we weren't good enough to sustain enough drives, too many three and outs and protecting the football. And anytime you can't do that, it's going to be tough."
Newton had one bright moment, a 64-yard strike to DJ Moore midway through the first quarter that led to a Newton touchdown run. But after that came the two interceptions and a pair of three-and-outs, and the offense never untracked, with some old problems (penalties and dropped passes) again rearing their heads.
"We knew we came out and they were going to blitz us," head coach Matt Rhule said. "I said it to you guys. We burned them on the first one for the long play to DJ. I thought early in the game, the first two passes he threw hit us in the hands. We had a chance to catch those.
"As it evolved or devolved, I should say, I'd have to watch the tape. Just wasn't a good day, but it wasn't one of those days I could sit there and say it was just him. I purely believe that Miami outplayed us today, outcoached us today. They were better than us today. It's pretty simple to me."
Walker admitted that it got "a little flat" on the sidelines, the antithesis of the juice Newton was supposed to bring — and brought — the previous two weeks.
But Rhule said he wasn't planning on making any changes, that Newton would continue to start, and work to get more comfortable.
And because he's settling in well, Newton's already learned that going through that process will take time, and can't be fixed all at once. And no matter Sunday's results, he said he still believed this could be a good situation, as he said when he signed earlier this month because he "wanted to win."
"This is the NFL. Nothing's promised," he said. "Just because Cam Newton is on your roster, it 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. And it starts with mentally tapping in and understanding what coach Rhule and obviously coach wants to do and that's how we're going to rock and roll."
Asked if he was confident he could get comfortable in the next five weeks, Newton smiled and said, "Yes sir."
"Just doing my job. That's it. I do my job and I have full faith the other 10 guys will do their job and it will be good."
View photos from Miami as the Panthers take on the Dolphins in Week 12.