Patriots

Newton dealing with 'new reality' where Panthers want to limit scrambles

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Newton dealing with 'new reality' where Panthers want to limit scrambles

FOXBORO -- Something's not quite adding up. 

When Bill Belichick spoke about Cam Newton on Wednesday morning, he described a quarterback who is still the toughest in the league to defend when he's on the move. 

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When Panthers coach Ron Rivera discussed his quarterback later that day, he spoke about a player who's still adjusting to a new offense, "an older guy," and someone living in a "new reality."

So which is it? Both coaches actually have valid points. 

From Belichick's perspective, Newton is less than two years removed from being named the NFL's MVP. Though the results haven't been there for him in 2017, it's quite possible that the abilities that once made Newton so dangerous are still there simmering beneath the surface. If the Patriots assume the worst, they could be setting themselves up for failure, particularly after they were frustrated by Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's mobility in Week 3.

On Rivera's end of things, he's in the process of trying to get his quarterback to adhere to a different playing style. The Panthers value Newton's athleticism, arm strength and decision-making, and they made moves in the offseason to try to preserve those for as long as possible. Drafting Christian McCaffrey in the first round and Curtis Samuel in the second gave Carolina two dynamic threats who provide the ancillary benefit of helping protect Newton from himself. Instead of holding onto the football, extending plays, chucking deep, and absorbing big hits, Newton, in theory, should be able to release the football more quickly and cut down on the shots he takes with McCaffrey and Samuel in the fold. 

It just hasn't worked out to this point: The Panthers have scored 45 points in three games. But Rivera is hoping that things improve with time since Newton missed much of training camp recovering from shoulder surgery.

"We're still adjusting," Rivera said Wednesday on a conference call with Patriots reporters. "Our quarterback didn't have the luxury of going through training camp so we've kind of had to start working on timing the last couple weeks of training camp and we're starting to see it come together. Just wish it could've happened a lot sooner, but that's kind of where we are with the new weapons we have."

Newton, 28, has already started to change his game, it seems. He was credited with just three carries last week against New Orleans after 11 combined carries through the season's first two weeks. Last year he had a career-low 90 rushes in 15 games, and it's pretty clear the Panthers would like to see that number continue to dip.
 
"It's something that's kind of his new reality," Rivera said. "He's an older guy. We don't want him to have to take the hits like he has in the past. At the same time, we've drafted a couple of guys with the versatility and trying to get the ball in their hands. We're trying to develop that rapport that he needs to have with those guys to be successful."

Rivera has reason to be encouraged as McCaffrey went over 100 yards receiving in Week 3 against the Saints, but even he acknowledged there's still growth that needs to take place. Starting with a quarterback who needs to make up for lost time.

"Right now, the biggest handicap, obviously, we have is time," he said. "We didn't get to do things that we wanted to do during training camp, obviously. Now we're in a little bit of catch-up right now."

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Patriots-Steelers tale of the tape

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Patriots-Steelers tale of the tape

0:41 - The BST crew breaks down the Celtics’ 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz. A. Sherrod Blakely joins Tom Giles from the TD Garden and Michael Holley and Kayce Smith analyze Gordon Hayward’s pregame comments about his recovery and return.

8:07 - Do Bill Belichick and the Patriots attempt to shut down Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown this weekend against the Steelers? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss and Phil Perry and Kayce Smith break down the matchup with this week’s tale of the tape.

14:36 - The Red Sox watched another slugger get scooped up, as the Philadelphia Phillies signed Carlos Santana. Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles discuss Boston’s interest in still-available J.D. Martinez and how much he could cost the club.

Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

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Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

The Patriots final injury report before their showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday includes 10 players listed as questionable and defensive lineman Alan Branch ruled out.

Branch, who hurt his knee in the Monday night loss to the Dolphins, missed three days of practice this week. Among the questionable are linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who didn't play against Miami. Tom Brady (Achilles), Brandon Cooks (hand) and Malcolm Butler (ankle) have been removed from the injury report. 

Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) among the Steelers listed as questionable. The full injury report: