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Carolina Panthers’ future at QB more muddled than ever after Cam Newton benched – Carolina Panthers Blog



MIAMI – Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said it’s no time to panic after Sunday’s 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

This came a week after he told everyone to “hold on’’ and “trust” him following a loss to the Washington Football Team.

Maybe it is time to panic, because exactly whom can the Panthers trust?

Carolina is 0-2 since Newton took over as the starter, but as the Panthers (5-7) enter their Week 13 bye, their playoff hopes look to be on life support despite a 2-0 record in the NFC South and four of their final five games against division opponents.

This isn’t Newton’s fault. Newton fell into this situation when it became apparent that quarterback Sam Darnold, who the Panthers traded for in the offseason, wasn’t the answer even before he went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

But Newton’s poor performance Sunday magnified just how muddled the quarterback situation is for the rest of this season and the future. If Newton can’t rebound and prove he’s the answer beyond this season, what’s next?

Coach Matt Rhule defused any thought that Newton won’t be his starter when the team resumes play Dec. 12 against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET, FOX). That his only other option is P.J. Walker — who replaced Newton in the fourth quarter Sunday because he had a better grasp of the two-minute offense — made that decision easy.

Rhule reiterated he didn’t plan to make a change at quarterback on Monday after reviewing film.

“I would absolutely anticipate starting Cam Newton,’’ he said. “That would not mean we wouldn’t play P.J. as well. That’s no slight against Cam. Keeping people off balance, maybe. But I don’t know that yet. P.J. has known me long enough to know I don’t make promises.’’

Newton promised to spend the bye week diving into areas of offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s offense that he hasn’t had time to after beginning his second stint with Carolina just two and a half weeks ago.

He insisted he can get comfortable enough that what happened Sunday won’t happen again.

But there are no guarantees. And if he looks as bad the final five games as he did in south Florida on Sunday, then the Panthers again will be in the market for a starting quarterback.

Fox analyst Moose Johnston emphasized that during the broadcast, saying the Panthers need to figure out the quarterback spot. He didn’t rule out Darnold getting an opportunity to show he can be a solution.

“But it’s still a position in flux for Matt Rhule,’’ Johnston said.

Rhule said Monday that Darnold (shoulder) began throwing this past week and will be evaluated when the team returns from the bye.

Barring a turnaround there, it’s clear Darnold will be the league’s highest-paid backup next season because the Panthers are obligated to pay the $18.8 million he is due in 2022, since they picked up his fifth-year option after acquiring him in the trade with the New York Jets.

And no team would take Darnold in a trade with that price tag unless the Panthers agree to pay part of his deal.

That’s not beyond them. They already are paying $7 million on top of the $10 million that was fully guaranteed to Teddy Bridgewater after letting him go to Denver for a sixth-round pick. The Broncos are only paying Bridgewater $3 million in 2021.

Carolina is taking a $4.7 million hit on Darnold this season, in addition to the $18.8 million next year, and it’s taking a $6 million cap hit on Newton this year with $4.5 million guaranteed.

That Newton is 32 and has taken more hits than any quarterback since 2011 because of his playing style complicates the matter further. He likely doesn’t have many good years left.

If Sunday’s any indication, he may not have any.

His 23.8 completion percentage was the worst by a former NFL MVP with a minimum of 20 pass attempts – ever. Peyton Manning had that distinction with 25% in a game in 2015, the year Newton won the MVP.

Manning retired after beating Newton and the Panthers in the Super Bowl that season.

If Newton doesn’t bounce back, the Panthers will be scouring free agency for a quarterback. It’s highly unlikely that if Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson left their respective teams, they would want to come to Carolina, so that won’t be the answer.

The draft, at least now, doesn’t appear to have any sure-fire solutions.

So Sunday’s loss and performance by Newton muddled everything moving forward. The only guarantee is that Rhule won’t overreact and he will continue to stay focused on the next game as always.

His first goal is figuring out how to beat teams that have figured out what he called the “formula’’ for beating the Panthers — stop the run and pressure the quarterback.

That the offense struggles against zero blitzes as it did Sunday complicates matters further. It’s hard to evaluate the quarterback when so many other things are going wrong, but there still are things Newton could have done to counter the pressure.

That goes back to making the right decisions, throwing to the right receiver, throwing with better timing — all things that were off against Miami.

“We need the quarterbacks to make plays and play us through it,’’ Rhule said. “The quarterback is only as good as the people around him, but he does have to make those people better.

“We’ll just evaluate everything each week. We’re not at the end of the season. We’re not making some global statement for the future.’’

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NFL moves to dismiss Jon Gruden lawsuit, calls ex-Las Vegas Raiders coach’s claims against league ‘baseless’



The NFL filed a motion asking a Nevada court to dismiss former Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league, saying accusations that the NFL leaked Gruden’s old, offensive emails are “baseless” and “should be dismissed for failure to state a single viable cause of action.”

The league responded Wednesday to the suit Gruden filed in district court in Clark County, Nevada, in November. The NFL filed a motion to dismiss the case and also asked the court to stay that motion until it first rules on whether the case should be moved to arbitration.

Gruden resigned as coach of the Raiders in October with more than six seasons remaining on his 10-year, $100 million contract.

He claimed a “malicious and orchestrated campaign” was used by the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to destroy his career by leaking the old emails that included racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language.

The emails were sent to former Washington Football Team executive Bruce Allen and others from 2011 to 2018 during Gruden’s time as the lead analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The emails came from a set of 650,000 obtained by the league in June during an investigation into WFT’s workplace culture.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Oct. 8 that Gruden used a racist trope to describe NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith.

Gruden apologized, and then coached two days later as a listless Raiders team lost at home to the Bears.

Then on Oct. 11, the New York Times revealed Gruden sent additional emails using misogynistic and anti-gay language over a seven-year period. He resigned that evening, apologizing again and saying he never meant to hurt anyone.

“Gruden does not, and cannot, dispute that he wrote the published emails. He does not, and cannot, dispute that he sent those emails to multiple parties,” the league’s filing said. “Nor does he claim that they were somehow altered or edited and that the repugnant views espoused in them were not in fact expressed by him. Instead, Gruden filed the instant complaint against the NFL and the commissioner, painting himself as the victim in a fictional story and seeking money through baseless claims against the NFL.”

Gruden’s lawyer had said “there was no explanation or justification for why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of the 650,000 emails collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or for why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season.”

The league denied leaking the emails, which had been sent to up to a half-dozen people and added that Gruden had no “expectation of privacy” for the emails.

The filing said even if the league had leaked the emails it still would not constitute “intentional interference with a contract” as claimed by Gruden because the NFL had no obligation to protect the confidentiality of the emails, had the right to disclose truthful information to the media and could have suspended or canceled Gruden’s contract because of the emails.

Raiders owner Mark Davis said in October he had reached a settlement with Gruden over the final six-plus years of his contract. Davis did not reveal the terms of the settlement.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford says toe feeling fine ahead of playoff game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers



Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford doesn’t expect his injured toe to be a factor in Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida.

Stafford suffered the injury in the Rams’ regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, a 27-24 overtime loss.

“I’m feeling OK,” Stafford said Wednesday. “The toe kind of happened in that game and that was kind of a real thing, but I got a bunch of treatment on it. I’m feeling a lot better. So I don’t see anything limiting me in this game.”

Coach Sean McVay said one of the reasons he tried to put the 49ers away with their run game near the end of regulation was because Stafford was hobbled. He said Stafford had “no limitations” Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals as the Rams leaned on their run game for much of their 34-11 wild-card victory.

Stafford was 13-of-17 passing, both easily season lows, for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also ran for a score in the first playoff victory of his 13-year NFL career.

“He felt good,” McVay said. “Everything was up and available to be called. He was feeling great.”

The Rams are uncertain about the statuses of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and safety Taylor Rapp for Sunday’s game.

Whitworth, 40, got his right knee rolled up on during the Rams’ opening play against Arizona. He played 30 of the team’s 60 offensive snaps before Joe Noteboom replaced him for the remainder of the game.

McVay said tests results haven’t indicated that the Rams need to rule Whitworth out yet. He’d be a nonparticipant if the Rams were practicing Wednesday, per McVay.

“He’s got some swelling in that knee and that ankle,” McVay said. “It’s a miracle. He’s like Gumby with the way that he got rolled up on. It was not a good looking play when you watch it on the replay. But he’s a resilient guy. He responds quickly. He’s been a quick healer. For him to be able to play and start at tackle at the age of 40 tells you everything you need to know about how blessed he is with his genetics and the way he takes care of himself.

“But we’ll see how quickly he can turn around. Not sure whether he’ll be able to go or not this week. We’ll take it a day at a time. Fortunately his scans gave us some information where we didn’t have to rule him out.”

Whitworth ranked third during the regular season in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate among offensive tackles.

Rapp, who missed the Cardinals game, remains in concussion protocol. His absence and Jordan Fuller‘s season-ending ankle injury prompted the Rams to bring 37-year-old Eric Weddle out of his two-year retirement last week to pad their safety depth. He played 19 of 56 defensive snaps while Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess started.

“With Rapp, we’re just taking that a day at a time,” McVay said. “The concussion protocol and kind of going through those strategic steps and making sure that when you are active, you’re not having any symptoms. Those are the things we’re working through right now and I know Taylor’s going to do everything in his power to be ready if he can.”

Cornerback David Long Jr. (knee) is “doing good,” per McVay. He returned one of the Rams’ two interceptions of Kyler Murray for a touchdown Monday night. McVay said backup running back Buddy Howell (hamstring) also would have been a nonparticipant Wednesday and that “everybody else would be in good shape” if the team was practicing.

McVay expects the Rams to designate linebacker Ernest Jones to return to practice from injured reserve on Thursday, thereby starting his 21-day window to be activated to the 53-man roster.

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Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield has shoulder surgery, eyes return to ‘my true self’



Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield says he is on track to getting “back to my true self” after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.

Dr. Orr Limpisvasti, the orthopedic surgeon for the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, performed the surgery on Mayfield’s left shoulder in California.

“Surgery went great. Was a complete success,” Mayfield said in a video posted to social media. “Now it’s on to the road to recovery. It’s one of those steps to get back to my true self. … This is not the end of my story.”

The Browns said the likely time period for Mayfield’s recovery is four to six months. He will start physical therapy on his shoulder next week and is expected to be cleared by training camp, if not sooner, a source told ESPN.

Mayfield, who suffered the shoulder injury in Week 2 and played through it for the rest of the season, will begin light throwing in April and should be able to participate in the off-season program on a limited basis, the team said.

After the Browns’ Week 17 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayfield admitted that he was “pretty damn beat up.”

With Cleveland already eliminated from playoff contention, Mayfield sat out the team’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 9.

Even though Mayfield finished 27th in the league in QBR (35.3) this season, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry declared last week that the Browns “fully expect” the 2018 No. 1 draft pick to be their starting quarterback in 2022 and “bounce back” from his injury-plagued season.

Mayfield will be entering the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him close to $19 million in 2022 after the Browns exercised his fifth-year option last offseason.

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