CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The sore right shoulder that has bothered quarterback Cam Newton for much of the past two months might have cost the Carolina Panthers their last chance to remain in playoff contention.
Newton was picked off on second-and-3 from the New Orleans 13 because his pass to Devin Funchess was so badly underthrown that the 6-foot-4 receiver did not have a chance to make a play on the ball. The 2015 NFL MVP blew an opportunity to pad a 7-6 lead and reward a defense that played lights out most of the night.
Whether the pass was underthrown due to a lack of arm strength or the bad timing that offensive coordinator Norv Turner says happens when a quarterback consistently doesn't throw two days a week in practice -- as has been Newton's schedule -- can be debated.
Bottom line: It was costly.
And the offense never recovered, as Newton mustered only 131 yards passing and had a season-low 52.5 passer rating.
The Panthers (6-8) now have lost six straight games. They trail the Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC with two games remaining, including a date with the Saints in New Orleans to close out the regular season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Panthers have less than a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs.
The biggest question left in this season is whether to sit Newton over the final two games to rest the shoulder? It’s not a conversation with Newton wants to have with coach Ron Rivera, who was non-committal when asked if that was an option.
"At the end of the day it is what it is," Newton said of his shoulder. "That's not something I want people to bail me out of. It's reality."
Though Newton insisted a lack of execution and not his arm strength was the reason for the loss, he admitted the constant soreness and having to rest during the week has been frustrating.
He wants to know as badly as any person why this has been a constant struggle since he had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff during the 2017 offseason. He wants to be able to throw on a daily basis.
He wants to feel pain free.
"I wish I could say what the injury is, because I really don't know what it is, either," said Newton, expressing as much frustration and concern about the shoulder as he has all season. "No matter how much you push, no matter how much you ice, [how many] anti-inflammatories you take ... trust me, I did it. Acupuncture, massages, it's not been a time a night went by I didn't have some type of work done on my arm.
"We just don't have the strength."
Newton's teammates feel for him in this season gone awry since a 6-2 start.
"Nobody is more frustrated than Cam," center Ryan Kalil said. "The guy is really beat up emotionally about how this season has gone."
And physically beat up?
"No doubt," Kalil said. "That's no secret."
That Newton's shoulder flared its ugly head on a night the defense finally played to the level it expected to prior to the season made the loss tougher to accept. Carolina held Drew Brees and a Saints offense averaging 34.4 points a game to two field goals through three quarters and 12 points for the game.
The only other scoring threat came after cornerback James Bradberry picked off Brees, giving Newton the ball at the New Orleans 42.
But Newton returned the favor with the interception in the end zone that was symbolic of the missed opportunities that have plagued this team during its losing streak.
Newton again insisted it had nothing to do with his arm strength and the stiffness and muscle tension he feels during and after each game.
However, the interception and other throws that came up short -- particularly on Carolina's final possession in the final minute with victory still within grasp -- seemed to indicate otherwise.
"The thing that when you talk to the different people who can help you with it, there's not no magical surgery," Newton said. "It's time. I've been hearing that since the injury happened.
"I feel this team has everything it needs to go to the next level. Even with the position I'm in, it still didn't come down to my arm. It came down to execution."