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Panthers must decide whether it’s time to sit ailing Newton

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Its come to the point in the season where the Carolina Panthers must make the difficult decision of whether or not to sit Cam Newton.

With the postseason a longshot at best following a six-game losing streak and the former league MVP seemingly unable to throw the ball more than 20 yards down the field due to a lingering shoulder injury, coach Ron Rivera may weigh the benefits of shutting down Newton for the rest of the season.

“Im not looking forward to that conversation,” Newton said after Carolinas 12-9 loss to the Saints .

Newton has been limited in practice for the better part of the season, often not throwing at all on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the week so he can rest the shoulder. His timing is off with his receivers and he doesnt have the same zip on the ball as he did when he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015 and combined for 45 touchdowns.

He said he doesnt know exactly what the issue is with his shoulder — only that its not getting better or worse.

He mentioned the possibility of it being the labrum or the rotator cuff, which he had repaired in March 2017. In the meantime, hes been taking anti-inflammatories, getting massages and trying acupuncture. He said there hasnt been a night thats gone by without having some type of work done on his shoulder.

Nothing is working.

Without a diagnosis, Newton has just kept on playing.

“Ive been eager to find out for weeks and weeks what it is,” Newton said. “Did you find something? What am I supposed to do? What do I have to do? Its a lot of soreness and tension in the joint.”

He previously mentioned the possibility of surgery in the offseason, but was non-committal on Monday night.

Rivera said after the game hell likely head into next weeks game against Atlanta — which is essentially meaningless in terms of the postseason — the same way he has the previous 14 games. Hell evaluate Newtons status later in the week after meeting with team doctors.

“Im not going to guess as to what hes going through,” Rivera said. “I would never do that. The young man is courageous guy who fights and tries to do the best he can for us.”

Center Ryan Kalil said “nobody is more frustrated than Cam.”

“Ive played a long time with the guy and he takes it personal. Its been a frustrating season, needless to say,” Kalil said.

He called Newton one of the toughest players hes ever played with.

“Ive seen the guy take hits and get his body up, game after game, season after season,” Kalil said. “Hits that I have seen him take other guys wouldnt get up from. He fights through a lot of stuff.”

Said middle linebacker Luke Kuechly: “I think its just the epitome of this team. You have guys that are banged up, you got guys who arent feeling 100 percent, but they continue to go out there and fight.”

Newton was 16 of 29 for 131 yards against the Saints. He finished with a 52.5 passer rating, by far the worst of the season. He was sacked four times.

He ran the ball five times, but was never a threat to throw the ball downfield, which allowed the Saints to easier game plan against the Panthers.

“It didnt come down to my arm tonight,” Newton said. “It came down to execution. I cant praise the defense enough. They gave us opportunities and gave us more opportunities. Its on us to sustain drives and take the tension and pressure of them.”

If the Panthers decide to sit Newton, Taylor Heinicke would get his first start.

“Its disheartening for me because of all the invested time Ive put in. I have to be better,” Newton said. “You want it so bad that you put so much on your plate. At the end of the day, you know it doesnt come down to you, but you feel like you havent held your end of the bargain.”

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