Cam Newton knows more about football than most people. More than most fans, more than most reporters, and probably more than most football players. No reporter who asks Cam a postgame question about football is typically questioning his aptitude for knowing about the game, but that didn't stop Cam from getting snarky last week when Jourdan Rodrigue from the Charlotte Observer asked him about receiver routes.
"It's funny to hear a female talk about 'routes,'" sounds like something you might hear from the mouth of Archie Bunker in an All In The Family episode about men not needing driving directions; instead it came from Newton in that press conference.
But if you thought that Cam's apology issued on Thursday seemed disingenuous, like it was scripted, rehearsed, over-charming, and only intended to save him from the ongoing "goodbye" letters from his sponsors, well, Cam confirmed that you are right. Cam managed to double-down after his apology, claiming after Sunday's 27-24 win over the Lions that he was only being sarcastic and that he was actually complimenting Rodrigue. "My sarcasm trying to give somebody kind of a compliment turned in ways I never would have even imagined."
Geez, Rodrigue, can't you take a compliment? And while you're at it, why don't you smile more?
To his credit, football-wise, Cam is coming off of one of the best games of his career: 26-of-33 for 355 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions against a very good NFC team on the road. The Panthers improved to 4-1, in legitimate contention for the top seed in the conference for the second time in three years. That being said, if I could pick a single quarterback in 2017 whose opinion on routes and passing seems a tad overrated, it would be Cam Newton.
There's little doubting at this point that Cam was a worthy first overall pick in 2011. Even going ahead of such stars as J.J. Watt, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Tyron Smith, Julio Jones, and Marcell Dareus, Cam has helped some great Carolina defenses reach the playoffs, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. He did win MVP that season, but I think that his performance against the Denver Broncos in the championship game, as well as his underwhelming follow-up campaign in which he had a passer rating of 75.8, proved that the people who saw through the gaudy stats for what they really were – advantageous opportunities against awful defenses – were right all along.
It was also after that Super Bowl loss in which Cam was 18-of-41 with no touchdowns, an interception, and two fumbles, that we got to see what he really thinks of reporters, questions, and being a leader in tough times. Like when a reporter asked if he took to heart Ron Rivera's words of encouragement that the Broncos bounced back two years after losing the Super Bowl to come back and win it.
Cam definitely had no "bounce back" in mind in 2016, completing just 52.9% of his pass attempts (guess he couldn't get on the same page with his receivers on any routes very well), which ranks as the fifth-worst completion percentage in the modern era by any QB with at least 500 attempts. It was the second-worst of the last 20 years, just a sliver ahead of Eli Manning's 2005 season, when Manning was just a second-year pro, not a veteran coming off of a Super Bowl appearance.
Of course, not being able to find his receivers is not an anomaly for Cam.
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Newton ranks 43rd in completion percentage (58.87%), sandwiched between Matt Cassel and Case Keenum. That's on a minimum of 500 attempts, but up it to 2,000 attempts and Newton ranks dead last out of 21 qualified quarterbacks. His career passer rating of 86.7 ranks 17th on that shorter list, which at least gives him street cred over Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick. And that's including his last two games, which have given him a nice boost by Cam throwing six touchdowns with a completion percentage over 77% against the Patriots and Lions.
New England has the worst defense in the NFL this season, while Detroit had the worst defense in the NFL last season. So it is important to note the circumstances before Cam escapes his demons of consistently being one of the worst passers in the league, or before a deja vu of 2015's mirage of a 15-1 season that over-inflates his true abilities as a quarterback. I mean, it wasn’t even a month ago that Cam threw three interceptions in a loss to the Saints – yes, the Saints, who consistently are among the most giving defenses in the NFL – with New Orleans defender Cam Jordan saying afterwards: "Clearly he's trying to be more of a pocket passer and I'm OK with it," Jordan said with a smirk. "Perfectly fine with it."
Somehow a guy who went 6-of-10 for 21 yards and an interception in the first half against the Saints had the audacity to tell a reporter only a week later that it was "funny" that she’d think it was OK to ask about routes because she's a girl. I mean, try to eliminate plays like this one from your repertoire before giving lessons on throwing footballs:
As an overall weapon, Cam does have exceptional talents. He's big, fast, has a strong arm, and when facing below-average defenses, can look like one of the top quarterbacks in the league. However, for all intents and purposes, Cam remains in the bottom-third of passers. Advanced stats from sites like ProFootballFocus and FootballOutsiders show that he’s ranked in the 20s in many important categories, like adjusted completion percentage (completion percentage minus drops, throwaways, and batted passes), passer rating when facing pressure, and ESPN's QBR. And in regards to past excuses from Cam defenders such as a perceived lack of weapons, the Panthers have used first round picks on Kelvin Benjamin and Christian McCaffrey, plus second round picks on Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel.
So while Cam Newton may be very knowledgable on the game of football, a guy who was a five-star recruit out of high school, a national champion, a Heisman winner, a first overall pick, an MVP, and has a recent Super Bowl appearance, I just think the idea of him mocking a reporter for asking questions about passing is … funny.