“Just. Throw. The. Football!!!!”
How many innocent TVs across New England were on the receiving end of that plea Sunday afternoon?
As the region watched Cam Newton hitch, double-hitch, load, reload then throw low, high, late or into a 49ers team meeting, the conclusion became inescapable.
The Patriots starting quarterback has a case of the yips.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here’s the Mayo Clinic explainer.
Basically, it’s brainlock caused by a lack of confidence.
Why would Newton lack confidence? Could be related to something physical like a balky shoulder. Could be related to uncertainty concerning his receivers. Could be a little performance anxiety brought on by succeeding the greatest quarterback in NFL history and playing for the greatest coach in NFL history knowing the one thing you absolutely, positively need to be is decisive and accurate.
Newton practically announced the problem after getting benched Sunday.
“I've just been pressing,” he admitted. “I don't think it's anything with mechanics. It's seeing the situation at hand and I caught myself just pressing too much. The energy has definitely been off for me and at times it's not rewarding when you're just going out there with this aura about yourself that's not you. I love playing this football game. I have fun playing this football game, but the performances here haven't been somewhat delightful for me to have fun in doing so.”
There’s no shortage of proof that Newton is getting himself bound up and – as a result – failing to execute simple things. Or, sometimes, anything.
My armchair theory? The yips were incubating for Cam but it became a full-blown case after the Patriots' first drive against Denver. His sidearm flip in the direction of James White was tipped and picked.
On the Patriots' next drive, Newton was faced with a second-and-9 at the Denver 39. He stood in the pocket for about four seconds, surveying and surveying until taking a 9-yard sack that caused him to roll up on right tackle Jermaine Eluemenor and send him to the bench (and eventually IR).
Newton’s hesitancy for the rest of the game was well-documented.
Against the Niners, with the Patriots trailing 7-0, their first drive ended after Newton couldn’t pull the trigger on second down and scrambled then – after pumping and looking on third down – throwing low and late to White, who was dropped easily.
On the Patriots' next possession – their only scoring drive of the first half – their biggest play was a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty after Newton overshot a wide-open Damiere Byrd by a fair amount. Their most costly play was the checkdown to N’Keal Harry on a third down that got him sandwiched and knocked from the game.
The next time Newton threw after the Harry KO, he rolled left and tried to baby a throw to Jakobi Meyers which was picked. And on the Patriots' next drive after a “let’s get him started” throw to fullback Jakob Johnson went for 1-yard (and Johnson fumbled), Newton threw a third down one-hopper to Byrd.
These are simple throws Newton could make in his sleep. I understand he’s not the most accurate passer in NFL history and has throwing mechanics a shot-putter would envy. But these aren’t just missed throws, they aren’t even close. And the failures to launch? Even more evidence that it’s not physical.
Rodney Harrison gave a blunt appraisal of the Patriots last night on NBC’s "Football Night in America."
I circled up with him Monday morning about Cam.
“His mechanics are bad at times,” texted Harrison. “His confidence isn’t the same and he holds the ball too long. They can’t win offensively without the ability to run the football. Cam won’t succeed if he has to do everything.”
The flip side to Harrison’s point – that the Patriots need to run to take the heat off Cam – is that he IS their best running threat. He’s got 50 carries for 244 yards and five rushing touchdowns.
The Patriots can take the heat off Newton by running it. But he will probably need to be the guy that runs it. So Cam does have to do everything. Just as Tom Brady did, only in a different way.
It’s a lot to put on a guy who had no offseason and joined the team in June. It’s a lot to put on anyone with the offensive personnel the Patriots are trotting out there.
The only way out of it is through. And the only way through is for Cam to maybe lighten up.
Good luck doing that when you’re coming to work and feeling “Bill Belichick facing the specter of a four-game losing streak” pressure.