In his second year in the NFL, Cam Newton did a public service announcement ad for Play 60, an NFL-sponsored initiative to get kids to be active at least 60 minutes a day.
In the ad, a kid thanks Newton for speaking at his school about the importance of exercise and nutrition.
“And I’ll grow up to be big and strong like you?” the kid asks.
“Absolutely,” Newton responds.
“And play in the NFL?” the kid adds.
“Yes, sir,” says Newton.
“And be drafted No. 1?”
“And become starting quarterback of the Panthers?”
Newton’s smile begins to fade. “OK,” he stammers.
“And you can be my backup?”
“And make Panthers fans forget about you?”
“What?” Newton whispers.
“And become your mom’s favorite player?”
The spot ends with the kid “loosening my arm” in preparation.
That commercial was filmed in 2012. Kyle Allen was 16 at the time — far older than the precocious kid.
There’s also no truth to the rumor that Jackie Newton, Cam’s mother, was browsing Allen jerseys in the Panthers’ team store.
Still, the performance of the second-year Panther in Newton’s absence has fans talking and leaves Newton’s future in Charlotte far from certain.
There are plenty of caveats, which we’ll get into shortly, but the numbers are these:
Allen has wins in both of his NFL starts — last year’s season finale at New Orleans and last Sunday at Arizona. That’s as many wins as Newton has in his last 10 outings. Cam has two road wins since November 2017, a span of 11 Panther road games in which Newton played.
Allen had two touchdowns against the Saints and four against the Cardinals. Newton has a total of four in his last six starts. His last four-touchdown game was in December 2017.
So, is Newton on the verge of getting Play 60ed? Is Kyle Allen the Panthers quarterback of the future?
Here come those caveats.
Newton battled a shoulder injury that required surgery for the second half of last year, a nagging problem that got so bad his backup had to come in to throw Hail Mary passes for him at the end of halves.
This season, while working his way back from the shoulder procedure, he’s also been battling a foot injury that kept him out of the Arizona game and will keep him off the field against Houston as well.
There’s also the point that Allen’s success has come against a Saints team that was resting regulars in preparation for a playoff run and the 31st worst defense in the league in Arizona.
Still, Newton has had a vocal group of critics on social media from the time he entered the league, from his postgame fashion choices to his press conferences which often resemble improve routines. Many people haven’t forgiven him for failing to jump on a fumble in Carolina’s Super Bowl loss, and the resulting post-game press conference he left early after several short, grumpy answers to questions.
Allen was the anti-Cam after the Cardinals game, wearing a team polo shirt to take questions — no fedoras, no babushkas, no custom-made loafers or suits with short pants.
“Just doing my job and playing football,” Allen said.
He praised his offensive line, coaches and receivers without referring to them by nicknames.
“For me, it’s just football, man,” he said. “Have a plan when you come to the line and play. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. One play at a time.”
Coach Ron Rivera — who blamed the team’s lack of deep throws on Newton’s choices in Week 1, denied Newton was injured following the Week 2 loss and stormed out of a press conference of his own when he was frustrated by all the Newton questions — also seemed to throw a bone to the anti-Newton hoard in his weekly press conference.
After announcing that Newton would miss this Sunday’s game, he said, “I think Kyle’s performance was what we needed. He came out and played very well and did the things we were hoping he would do. I think what it does is just energize us at a time we needed a little bit of energy.”
So where does that leave Newton?
He’s injured — breaking down if the dozens of Twitter doctors out there are accurate and facing the prospect of a coach who seems to be ready to move on without him, with the safe, corporate back-up guy.
Obviously, if Allen keeps stringing together wins and four-touchdown games, he’ll continue to get the ball, but what happens when, perhaps as soon as this Sunday in Houston, he struggles against a tough — or even average — defense?
The next few weeks will go a long way toward determining which quarterback on the roster Panthers fans will be forgetting about and who will be Mom’s favorite player — at least until that Play 60 kid is ready.