Taylor’s turn: With QB Cam Newton out, Panthers turn to ODU’s Heinicke

Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC – Cam’s right arm isn’t right. With the Panthers all but eliminated from playoff contention, the team is sitting their franchise quarterback down due to a sore shoulder.

That signifies it’s Taylor’s time in Carolina now.

The Panthers announced Wednesday afternoon that Taylor Heinicke, ODU’s all-time leading passer, will start in place of Cam Newton on Sunday vs. the Falcons. Newton will sit out the final two games, according to multiple reports.

It will be the first career regular season start for Heinicke. Newton did not practice on Wednesday, handing all the first-team reps over to Heinicke.

“I liked how the guys rallied around him today in practice. I thought those things were great,” Rivera said. “I like the fact that Cam was right there too during every play, talking about what was going on. It’s a good situation right now.

In Monday’s 12-9 home loss vs. New Orleans, Carolina’s sixth straight defeat, Panthers’ franchise quarterback Cam Newton completed just 16-of-29 passes for 131 yards. As noted by Panthers.com, his passer rating (52.5) and completion percentage (55.2) were both season lows. Newton completed just one pass that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage – a 17-yarder to Curtis Samuel midway through the first quarter.

Cam Newton and teammate Taylor Heinicke react after a third quarter touchdown. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

During his press conference Wednesday, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Newton will remain on the 53-man roster, saying “crazy enough things can happen,” in reference to a potential playoff appearance for Carolina.

“It was a very good conversation with Cam, and he understood,” Rivera said. “He understood our thinking behind this and he’s disappointed, he’s frustrated. You know him; he wants to play. This is one of those things that, you know, we had a great conversation with him and he understands going forward.”

According to 538.com, Carolina (6-and-8) has less than a one percent chance of reaching the playoffs.

After the loss Monday night, Newton admitted he’s struggling with an injured throwing shoulder. “You do any and everything to make sure your body is at peak performance,” Newton said. “From cardio, treatment, practice, film, cardio, treatment, practice, film. It’s been repetition. I think it’s disheartening to me because there’s so much invested time put in. Obviously my arm hasn’t allowed me to do a lot of practice. I’ve been on a pitch count for a long time, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. That’s not a scapegoat. That’s not something that I want people to bail me out on. It’s just something that is reality.”

Taylor Heinicke of the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Heinicke, who won the Panthers’ backup QB job during training camp, made his NFL regular season debut with the Texans last season during a Week 16 contest against the Steelers. It was shorter than Heinicke or the Texans anticipated, as he left the game with a concussion after just nine plays under center.

In 2018, he’s appeared in five games for Carolina – completing 2-of-4 passes for 46 yards.

Heinicke, ODU’s record-holder in passing yards and touchdowns, went undrafted in 2015. He spent the first three seasons of his career with the Vikings before being signed to the Patriots practice squad and then landing with the Texans in 2017.