Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t having any part of feeding the Sean McDermott homecoming storylines Wednesday.
No disrespect to the Buffalo Bills head coach and former Panthers defensive coordinator, but Newton says he has enough to worry about.
One thing Newton no longer concerns himself with: Keeping all of his receivers and pass-catchers happy. (It helps that there are no Steve Smith-type personalities demanding the ball.)
This became a topic this week because rookie running back Christian McCaffrey was targeted seven times in the season-opening victory at San Francisco – equaling the combined targets for starting receivers Kelvin Benjamin (five) and Devin Funchess (two).
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Tight end Greg Olsen, shooting his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season, had two catches for 18 yards on four targets.
Newton says he used to worry about spreading the ball and appeasing the type-A personalities in the receivers meeting room.
“Years past I’ve had that approach. But now I leave that solely up to the play-caller,” Newton said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, the aforementioned play-caller, said the distribution of targets is influenced by the defensive looks. It’s also a process, with McCaffrey’s involvement (five catches for 38 yards and 13 carries for 47) opening up the field for other receivers.
Newton said he lets his reads dictate where he’s throwing, and he’s not going to play favorites.
“When that play call is called, it’s up for me to go wherever the defense dictates the ball to go,” he said. “And not picking any favors, not picking any type of person that hasn’t touched the ball, yet. I’ll leave that solely up to coach Shula and his staff.”
Rivera not worried
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he understands that “guys want to have the ball in their hands” and want to make plays.
But Rivera said he didn’t have a problem with how the ball was shared in the 23-3 victory over the 49ers.
“He threw to eight different receivers, which I think was big,” Rivera said. “When you do that, you’re taking a lot of pressure off the other guys.”
It’s also worth noting there weren’t many targets, period. Newton’s 25 pass attempts were his fewest since a Week 4 loss at Atlanta last year, when he threw 24 times before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion.
And the stat lines for some of the receivers and tight ends would have been bigger had Newton not overshot them during a shaky first-half passing performance.
Rivera said Newton came to the sideline upset with himself after a couple of the misfires, including an overthrow to tight end Ed Dickson in the end zone. Rivera told him he was making good reads, so relax and the completions would come.
Starting late in the second quarter, Newton ended up completing nine of his last 10 throws, with the lone incompletion a spike to stop the clock.
“I just think it was a matter of him getting comfortable and making things happen on the field,” Rivera said. “Once he gets into his rhythm, you see it. And that’s what happened in the second half. You could see him in the third quarter really throw the ball the way he’s capable of.”
A work in progress
McCaffrey figured to be a focal point in the opener, and will continue to be. The Panthers drafted the Stanford standout eighth overall as the key piece in their plan to give Newton more versatile weapons and get the ball out of his hands more quickly to keep him from taking as much punishment as he did in 2016.
That worked pretty well against the 49ers, when Newton was not sacked and took only one big hit – a blind-side pressure by Elvis Dumervil.
Newton said the addition of McCaffrey has benefited all the backs, including veteran Jonathan Stewart. The bruising Stewart was the game’s leading rusher last week with 65 yards on 18 carries and also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass – on a screen play in which McCaffrey drew a couple of defenders to him.
“You can tell what great players are because they raise the level of play. And ever since C-Mac has been here, I think that whole running back corps, the level of play has risen,” Newton said. “But it starts with Stew. He’s the leader of that (group).”
During his brief remarks about the Bills, Newton said McDermott had a “star-studded” defense, much like he did in Charlotte.
But Newton said if he’s making good decisions and delivering the ball on time, he and the offense’s other playmakers – both new and old – aren’t worried about the opposition.