CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton understands pressure on the quarterback is key to winning in the NFL.
The eight sacks and constant duress the Carolina Panthers placed on the Arizona Cardinals’ Carson Palmer on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium was the deciding factor in a 30-20 victory that ended a four-game losing streak for the defending NFC champions.
“It’s just something that you have to think about, especially as a quarterback because no matter what the play is called, you know, after being hit a couple of times you just try to find ways to get the ball out of your hands," Newton said.
Pressure is one thing. Hits that could end a season, possibly a career, are another -- particularly if they are hits that should be penalized.
That was Newton’s stance following a win he and the Panthers (2-5) hope will turn their season around. He tried to brush it off initially when asked if he was surprised officials didn’t penalize the Cardinals for a below-the-knees hit he took in the third quarter.
"I’m speechless," he said. "But next question."
When later pressed, Newton unloaded like the Carolina front seven did on Palmer in a way they haven’t done all season. Newton said he didn’t feel safe. He said the no-calls are taking the fun out of the game for him. He argued that other quarterbacks get more calls.
He said he planned to talk to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
He’s got a legitimate complaint.
Because he’s built like a Mack truck at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, because he runs more than any quarterback in the NFL, Newton often is viewed more as a running back than a quarterback. Because defenders often bounce off him when making big hits, there is the perception he is invincible.
According to the NFL rulebook, Newton has a case. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(e) states:
"A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him."
In the Panthers' opener against Denver, Newton took four helmet-to-helmet shots. Only one was flagged, and that was negated by an intentional-grounding penalty.
There hasn’t been a roughing-the-passer penalty called against Newton since.
A penalty should have been called in the third quarter on Sunday when Arizona defensive tackle Calais Campbell went low and knocked Newton awkwardly to the ground on a third-and-goal pass from the 2. After a few anxious moments of Newton laying on the ground with players from both sides checking to see if he was OK, Newton got up to complain to the officials.
He also got in the face of an Arizona player.
“I apologized to the referee who I was talking to, but I don’t think there is a person that can go through what I go through and still keep their head," Newton said. “Hits to the head, that’s one thing. But when you’re not protected in the pocket, that’s another.
“The story of my life ever since I came in is, ‘Oh, well, I missed that one. I’m sorry. I’ll try to get it.’ That’s bull crap. That’s bull crap."
This wasn’t always the case. From Newton’s rookie season in 2011 through 2012, defenders were penalized 14 times for roughing the passer. No penalties were called on defenders against Newton all of last season.
Over the past two seasons, only the Panthers and Bengals haven’t had a roughing-the-passer penalty called against the opposition. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton has been hit an NFL-high 212 times during that span. Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor is second with three penalties on 185 hits, followed by Seattle’s Russell Wilson with three penalties on 176 hits.
Newton has bitten his tongue, for the most part, until Sunday.
It was time.
If the Panthers are going to make a run in the NFC South, where they trail division-leader Atlanta (5-3) by two-and-a-half games, they’ll need Newton at full strength. They’ll need him to play carefree without worry of being injured.
They’ll need officials to protect him like they do other quarterbacks.
Newton understands the risks when he runs. He ran seven times for 43 yards against Arizona, often diving or running out of bounds before defenders could take a solid hit on him.
In the pocket he has no defense for that. Perhaps that’s why he admittedly feels safer running in the open field than being a sitting duck in the pocket.
“I’m still growing, but yet when you constantly see the hits, when you constantly see the flags being picked up, when you constantly see flags not being thrown and to see other quarterbacks getting it -- lesser hits, lesser physical hits -- then it’s taking the fun for me out," Newton said.
The Panthers took the fun out of the game for Palmer, getting 13 of their 20 pressures and five of their sacks with four or fewer rushers. Before Sunday, they had only six sacks all season when sending six or fewer.
They would have tied a team single-game record with nine sacks had nickel back Leonard Johnson not had one taken away late in the first half because he ripped the helmet from Palmer’s head.
It was the right call.
Newton wants the same kind of treatment.
"I’ve talked to numerous people about it," he said. “And when I see other guys get calls, they don’t have to be no MVP. They don’t have to be this, that and a third or being this type of tier player. I look at how they get hit and for every hit that they get called, I can match a hit in my career that I didn’t get called.
"That’s all it’s about."