Sophomore slumps are common among NFL quarterbacks, but few second-year signal callers are causing more consternation after an amazing rookie campaign than Cam Newton. After setting several records in 2011, Newton's been far less effective and efficient in a general sense in 2012. He's already fumbled three times through five games, which is as often as he did so all last season, and he's projected to fail to surpass his rookie numbers across the board.
Perhaps most disturbing is Newton's inconsistency from game to game. The Atlanta Falcons have the only quality defense he's done well against this season, when he completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-28 Week 4 loss. Newton carved up the New Orleans' Saints defense in Week 2, but that's certainly no major accomplishment.
And against defenses that challenge quarterbacks of any stripe, Newton's been just short of awful. He threw three picks and no touchdowns, completing less than half his passes, in a Week 3 debacle against the New York Giants, and against the Seattle Seahawks' strong defense last Sunday, Newton was just about invisible -- 12 of 29 for 141 yards in a 16-12 loss.
Worse than the perception in and out of the building that Newton tends to internalize failure to a worrisome degree is the fact that opponents are starting to question whether the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft can handle everything NFL defenses throw at him. After the Seahawks game, safety Earl Thomas, generally the quiet man among Seattle's secondary, made a damning indictment.
''We know he's a great dual-threat quarterback, but once we bottle it up and frustrate him, we know he's going to tank a little bit,'' Thomas said. ''We were able to do that today.''
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said on Monday that Newton's troubles are part of the growth process, and may stem from the quarterback trying to do too much.
"I think he's pressing, personally I do. He wants to make things happen so much," Rivera said. "He's trying very hard to do those things, do the right things. It's all part of him developing as a football player."
That may be, but it doesn't explain why Newton missed a wide-open Ben Hartsock on what could have been the Panthers' game-winning drive over Seattle late in the fourth quarter. It also leaves questions open about how ready Newton is to be a complete NFL quarterback.
"It's not just to advance the ball quickly," Rivera explained. "But it's to work the different levels, different options and different combinations that are there. They take this away, come down and get this. I think sometimes he holds it a little bit. He's waiting for that guy to clear, and sometimes it's too late."
Last season, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski merged Carolina's concepts with aspects of the Auburn playbook Newton knew. The results were wildly successful, but does that leave Newton short when it comes to the full-blast version of an NFL playbook?
According to the Seahawks, it might be so.