When Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel the other day proclaimed Carolina quarterback Cam Newton “the best player in our league,” a listener could not help but to apply a 25 percent coach-speak discount to that statement.
Because Carolina is the next up, it suits the administration to be extra special kind to the opposition. Be certain to pass all Manuel’s praise through that filter.
“He is big. He’s fast. He can throw. He can run. There aren’t a lot of things he can’t do. It’s going to take probably 11 players on the field to stop him,” he said. Why, Manuel may petition the league for two extra defenders, just to make it a fair fight.
But honestly, can anyone know for certain what kind of Newton will show himself Sunday at Carolina?
The Newton who torched New England with 316 passing yards and four touchdowns – three passing and one pedestrian?
Or the Newton who just the week before coughed up three interceptions in a 21-point loss to New Orleans?
Might he be in a petulant mood Sunday after his leading receiver and bestie Kelvin Benjamin was traded away?
When might the telling moment come when he wraps his head in a towel, secludes himself on the Panthers bench and retreats to his own world, like a child in time-out? That is one of the worst looks in football.
And, as for the Falcons, really, how much more humiliation could Newton inflict upon a team that already has been beaten by Jay Cutler?
A Newton side note: The Falcons are the only NFC South opponent with a winning record against the Atlanta-born quarterback (7-5).
Since winning the MVP and taking his team to the Super Bowl in 2015, it has been especially difficult to categorize Newton. Between the shoulder issue that followed him into this season and the press conferences that have been as erratic as his wardrobe choices, he has been beset by a squadron of inconsistencies. That just may be the Newton norm.
Best player in the NFL at this moment? Nope.
Capable of playing like it, you know, on any given Sunday, Monday or Thursday? Certainly.
Sunday, your last two NFL MVPs are meeting for the first time in 2017. Neither Newton nor Matt Ryan are playing to that level currently. It’s Newton’s 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns that distinguish him as being particularly off his feed (Ryan: nine TDs/six Ints., still not to his level).
Ryan loses every physical comparison. But it’s when he was asked this week, in general, about the importance of showing resolve when all around him is turning to organic fertilizer that he distances himself from the famously moody Newton.
“That’s part of playing this position,” he said. “There are going to be times in games when you make big plays and times where you make some mistakes. Part of being a leader is to keep instilling confidence in the people around you that you’re going to go out there and we’re going to make plays as a unit. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
The goal, then, is to go onto Newton’s home field Sunday and throw all kinds of misfortune his way. And watch him gradually take on the body language of the unhappiest player in the league. When playing against Newton that has to stand as the one greatest joy.