Carolina Panthers

Panthers have nothing left to lose going with Taylor Heinicke

The Carolina Panthers are basically eliminated from playoff contention, so they have to protect Cam Newton and start Taylor Heinicke.

After a sixth straight loss Monday night, the Carolina Panthers are 6-8 and have a less than one percent chance to make the playoffs. Quarterback Cam Newton has been dealing with a shoulder issue, while looking more and more limited along the way. So Wednesday’s news he will be shut down for the final two games is not surprising, and Taylor Heinicke will start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Head coach Ron Rivera left the door open for Newton to play Week 17 against the New Orleans Saints, if the playoffs are still a possibility. But clinging to that remote chance is foolish, with the added layer of Newton publicly conveying frustration over the injury after Monday night’s game.

Heinicke will be making his first NFL start on Sunday, with his second sure to come in the season finale. The 2015 undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion is 3-for-5 for 56 yards in regular season action as a pro, including two Hail Mary attempts this season when Newton was simply not able to make those throws.

The only thing left for the Panthers to salvage from this season is avoiding a 6-10 record for the second time in the last three seasons, as their season-to-season inconsistency continues. This year’s tumble from playoff contention along with a new owner has put Rivera on the hot seat no matter who the quarterback is, and Heinicke may not be that much of a downgrade from Newton in his current physical state.

So the right move is to protect Newton from further injury, and if he needs offseason shoulder surgery he should get it done early. He had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder in late-March of 2017, as a plan of rest and rehab delayed what should have been considered the inevitable solution.

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Rooted in their time together with the Minnesota Vikings, where he landed when he went undrafted, Heinicke is plenty familiar with Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system. Whether that yields good results is unknown, but for Carolina it doesn’t really matter at this point as the offseason nears and Newton’s health takes priority.

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