Newton’s prognosis uncertain after aggravating foot injury

Beleaguered coach Ron Rivera faces future without former MVP

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton walks off the field following the Panthers 20-14 loss Thursday to Tampa Bay. A foot injury has put Newton’s availability in question for the 0-2 Panthers. (Mike McCarn / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Bad? Meet worse.

The Carolina Panthers are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2013 and have lost their first two home games for the first time since the 2-14 debacle in 2010 that “earned” them the first overall pick, which Carolina used on Cam Newton.

The back-to-back losses have put the Panthers in last place in the NFC South.

While both losses were close — three points to the Rams and six to Tampa Bay — there were concerns over Newton’s play. The quarterback was off the mark at times, and on a fourth-and-1 goal-line play that could have decided the Tampa game, Newton didn’t even touch the ball, which went to Christian McCaffrey on a direct snap.

That raised concerns that Newton, who had offseason shoulder surgery and battled a sore foot in training camp, which limited his time to a few series in one preseason game, isn’t at 100 percent full health.

Coach Ron Rivera brushed off questions about his quarterback’s health, saying after the game that Newton’s shoulder and foot had nothing to do with his performance or Rivera’s decision at the goal line.

“Don’t worry about the foot,” Rivera said at one point. “The foot has nothing to do with it.”

Much like his two ill-fated replay challenges in the game, Rivera was off the mark on his assessment of Newton’s health. Concern over “the foot” was more than merited.

The former MVP missed practice on Tuesday, and GM Marty Hurney told the media that Newton had informed the team after Thursday’s game that he had aggravated the foot injury.

“The first I heard anything about his foot bothering him was after the game,” Rivera said — presumably after he denied there was a foot problem in his post-game press conference.

There’s currently no timeline for Newton’s recovery, with Hurney saying only, “We’ll see how it goes.”

“I have no idea,” Rivera said when asked if Newton would be ready by Sunday. “Nobody will know better than him.”

That leaves the Panthers with limited options should Newton not be able to go in Sunday’s game at Arizona.

The team would likely start Kyle Allen, who won the backup job in training camp. Allen started last season’s final game, going 16-for-27 for 228 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Saints.

Will Grier, the West Virginia quarterback the team drafted in the third round in April, would be the backup. Grier struggled in the preseason, completing just 55.7 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s been inactive in each of the first two games.

Should Newton be out for significantly longer, the team would likely make a roster move to try to shore up the position.

The least invasive solution would be to bring back Taylor Heinicke, who spent most of last season as Newton’s backup, stepping in to throw Hail Mary passes prior to halftime to relieve stress on Newton’s shoulder.

Heinicke started the team’s 15th game last year, going 33-for-53 for 274 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He was cut after going 19 of 31 for 202 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the preseason.

Rivera admitted that going with Allen long-term would impact the team’s outlook going forward.

“It changes things dramatically if we end up going with Kyle for a while, yes,” he said.

There are veteran options available for the team if the Panthers don’t want to lower expectations. Colin Kaepernick, allegedly blackballed from the NFL for kneeling during the anthem, is available. Panthers owner David Tepper wasn’t shy about signing safety Eric Reid, also allegedly shut out of a job for the same reason, when the team had a need last year.

Reid told the media that Kaepernick was “waiting by the phone,” but the team has not yet talked to him about the possibility of adding him.

Another option would be Eli Manning, the Giants franchise quarterback who just lost his starting job to rookie Daniel Jones. The Panthers could likely swing a deal with former general manager and current Giants GM Dave Gettleman to send draft picks to New York and bring the veteran in.

Rivera downplayed talk of finding a veteran from outside.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “The guys we have here, we brought them here for a reason.”

Of course, reasons change along with the fortunes of the team. Plus, Rivera also said “it’s not the foot” less than five days ago.

“It’s the foot,” he admitted. “All I can say is his foot’s sore.”