CHARLOTTE — Cam Newton has no limitations. That's what he and the Panthers said after last Sunday's loss to the Rams and in the days leading into Thursday night's matchup with the Buccaneers.
But something's clearly off — with Newton and the offense.
"Through my lens, it's hard to look defensive guys in their eyes after a game like this," Newton said early Friday morning after the Panthers fell to 0-2. "Offensively we didn't hold up our end of the bargain. That's the obvious. We just didn't uphold our end.
"All fingers are just pointing back to me specifically, and the offense."
The Panthers moved the ball OK against the Bucs, totaling 352 yards. But they went 3-for-14 on third down, 0-for-3 in the red zone and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since a 17-3 loss in Chicago midway through the 2017 season. Perhaps the most curious stat, though, was Newton's running – or lack thereof again. A game after he rushed for negative yards for the first time in his career, he tied a career-low with two attempts for 0 yards. The Panthers, probably not coincidentally, are now 0-7 when Newton rushes just twice in a game.
But he wouldn't question the game plan.
"It's my job to execute, simple and plain. Whatever play is called – we had our opportunities," said Newton, who's rushed five times this season for negative-2 yards. "It didn't come down to me not running the football."
And head coach Ron Rivera repeated his belief that Newton has no limitations, either with his surgically repaired throwing shoulder or the foot he sprained three weeks ago.
"His foot is not such that we don't trust (it). Don't even worry about the foot," Rivera said. "The foot has nothing to do with it."
Whatever the reason, the Panthers right now aren't using the weapon that makes Newton unique, the quality he two summers ago likened to a lion's roar. He did keep a read-option on the Panthers' opening drive Thursday, but he was stopped short on fourth-and-1. On Carolina's two other fourth-and-1 opportunities, Newton threw an incompletion toward Curtis Samuel and was a decoy on the failed direct snap to Christian McCaffrey in the final 90 seconds.
There was a time not long ago when the entire league could do little to stop the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback on a fourth-and-1 carry. Now he's being asked why those type of plays aren't happening.
"I don't know," Newton said. "I can't answer that question.
"You're not about to sit up here and have me point and say what I would've called different. Me, personally, I accept full responsibility in making sure that offensively I do my part and I uphold my end of the bargain. That's the only thing I can say right now. It came down to not being able to put up points."
Which also had to do with another inconsistent passing performance. After the loss to the Rams, Newton attributed many of his missed throws to rust. Four days later, he completed just 25 of his 51 passes.
"There is no issue with his shoulder," Rivera reaffirmed. "He threw the deep ball today, threw it a couple of times."
He did, seven times to be exact. But Newton completed just two of those seven attempts that traveled 20-plus yards past the line of scrimmage. He also missed on a number of short and intermediate routes.
Perhaps it's still rust. The Panthers say it's not health-related. Whatever's happening, this isn't the Newton the Panthers need.
"I feel OK. But you're not going to hear no type of reasons why tonight didn't go as planned. I have to be better. No matter what physical condition I'm in, no matter what foot, shoulder, I didn't get the job done," Newton said. "It's frustrating. I wish I could say something other than that, but that's the facts. I'm extremely brutally honest person with people, and I'm extremely brutally honest with myself, and it's time to look myself in the mirror and do some real soul searching because I had opportunities tonight and I didn't get it done.
"I say it all the time, 'Sometimes you find yourself in a blender and the only person who can get you out is yourself.'"