He strode to the podium on Christmas Eve looking as if he’d borrowed a cowboy hat and trench coat from central casting. And then Cam Newton talked about how the Carolina Panthers were in need of “a sabbatical.”

It was a rather surreal scene for the NFL’s reigning MVP, a man destined only a year ago at this time for a run to the Super Bowl. But then this is Cam Newton, who has created his share of surreal scenes.

“We had a long, long run,” Newton said after the Panthers’ lost to the Falcons and fell to 6-9. For the first time since 2012, the team will miss the playoffs and Newton sounded as if he and everyone could use a break. “It’s time for guys to take a sabbatical so to speak and just get away from it.”

This being Newton, that comment will be dissected any number of ways. His every move and comment was scrutinized last season as he dealt with success in his own unorthodox way, so why wouldn’t he deal with a disappointing season in his own unorthodox way?

For Newton, this has been a trying season, one that in many ways has been a logical extension of Super Bowl 50, when he was battered by the Denver Broncos and left to supply monosyllabic answers in a brief postgame news conference. The Broncos kept it up in the season opener, again battering Newton as they refined the template for how to beat him.

Along the way, almost everyone noticed that Newton wasn’t getting the kind of favorable treatment that quarterbacks like Tom Brady and others get from referees, who flag every hit on the golden boys. Newton may be more mobile and more often sacrifices himself as a runner, but he took a number of hard hits to the head. By Halloween, he was vocal about his frustration and had just recovered from his first acknowledged concussion.

“It’s really taken the fun out of the game for me, honestly,” Newton told reporters, “because, at times, I don’t even feel safe.”

“Enough is enough,” added Newton, who missed one game with his first acknowledged concussion in early October. “I don’t think there’s a person that can go through what I go through and still keep their head, you know what I’m saying? Hits to the head, that’s one thing, but when you’re not protected in the pocket, that’s another thing. The story of my life ever since I came in [to the league] is just, ‘Oh, oh, well, we missed that one, I’m sorry.’ That’s bull crap.”

Newton spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in November and yet the non-calls persisted and took their toll. And now, with one regular-season game left and his team at 6-9, Coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that Newton’s play has “probably” been affected by a shoulder injury. Details of what ails him are sketchy, by design.

“It’s all right. There’s no need to dwell on something,” Newton said. “I’m not gonna blame nothing but my production. Production hasn’t been solid, and that’s me. I can’t point to something and say, well, this is the reason more so than it just hasn’t been carrying over to the game.”

Newton, who is in his sixth season at 27, refused to blame his problems on his shoulder injury, the exact nature of which remains undisclosed.

The Panthers and Newton will play out the season Sunday against Tampa Bay. “We have one game left, and there are guys that I know for a fact will give everything they have and more,” Newton said, offering the kind of remark one would expect from a team leader. “We have an unbelievable opportunity to still accomplish a lot of things with us being such a young team. We just have to control the things we can.”

But the fact remains that the Panthers’ run of three consecutive NFC South titles is over. It was, indeed, “a long, long run.”