CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton says he needs to get rid of the football quicker — and get it to his big wide receiver a little more, too.
The Panthers All-Pro quarterback took eight sacks on Sunday from the Minnesota Vikings, including one for a safety that led to Carolina’s first home loss since Nov. 16. 2014.
A byproduct of the Vikings constant pressure on Newton was he only threw one pass to his favorite wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin — that resulting in an incompletion in the final minutes.
“That can’t happen,” Newton said Wednesday. “If I’m speaking for it, that won’t happen again. He’s too good of a player.”
Benjamin had 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games back from a torn ACL this season, making being shutout against the Vikings all the more head-scratching.
When asked if Newton can live up to his words, coach Ron Rivera said, “That’s up to him. He is the quarterback. … But believe me, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned, if Cam says he’s going to do something he’s most certainly going to try.”
Benjamin was unavailable for comment during the interview session that was open to the media on Wednesday.
However, when asked about his lack of production after Sunday’s game Benjamin pointed to the eight times Newton was sacked.
Newton took accountability for some of those sacks saying he has to do a better job of “pressure recognition.”
“Just getting the ball out of my hand,” said Newton, who finished the game 21 of 35 for 262 yards with three interceptions and no touchdown passes.
Back in training camp Newton talked about team owner Jerry Richardson advising him to “making the layups.”
“You hear it often — you can throw the comebacks and digs, but what about the check downs and the slants and getting back to the small nuances of the game that make big differences?” Newton said in July.
And offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he wanted to see Newton improve his completion percentage to about 65 percent after completing just 59.8 percent last year. Instead, Newton has gone the other direction, completing only 58.3 percent this year.
Of course it doesn’t help that the Panthers have faced two of the toughest defenses in the league in the Broncos and Vikings.
This Sunday potentially offers a chance for Newton and Panthers to turn things around against an Atlanta defense that is allowing 313 yards passing per game and has surrendered 10 touchdown passes in three games.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the team has to do a better job all around offensively, saying there is “plenty of blame to go around” for giving up eight sacks and yielding 12 hits on Newton.
Panthers left tackle Michael Oher acknowledged he used “poor technique” on a sack the resulted in a safety. All five starting offensive linemen gave up a sack or quarterback hit. Running back Fozzy Whittaker missed a block on a blitz. And the receivers failed to gain separation from the Vikings defensive backs and linebackers resulting in Newton holding the ball too long.
On one occasion Newton seemed to get frustrated not wanting to take another sack and threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by a Vikings defensive lineman.
“It’s frustrating,” Newton said of being 1-2 on the season. “But as one coach mentioned it is like controlling the ripple effect, like throwing a rock in a pond. Make sure that first ripple is you and take care of you first and that will affect others.”
A win Sunday would pull the Panthers into a first-place tie with the Falcons (2-1) in the NFC South and give them the early head-to-head tiebreaker.
“We are optimistic about moving forward and the challenge from Atlanta,” Newton said. “This is a divisional opponent so it counts for two wins.”