Rookie Cam Newton reminded the Redskins what they’ve lacked for so long, leading the Carolina Panthers to a 33-20 victory at Bank of America Stadium. Once again early this season, Newton was a show-stopper, ruining John Beck’s first start at quarterback for Washington while again highlighting the Redskins’ most glaring need. Washington must find the right long-term fit at quarterback — and that person isn’t on the team yet.
Beck rebounded from a shaky beginning Sunday and actually responded well overall during his most substantial work in the regular season since 2007.
“I want to be the guy. I gave it everything I had,” Beck said. “I prepared my tail off this week.”
He did many things well against Carolina, especially in the second half, passing for 279 yards with a touchdown, and rushing for another.
As he was sacked in the first half, though, Beck fumbled and Carolina recovered the ball. He also threw an interception late in the fourth quarter that wasn’t his fault.
The Redskins didn’t lose because of Beck. With continued development this season as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, maybe the inexperienced 30-year-old could provide a bridge to Washington’s next quarterback of the future.
And in the Redskins’ situation, that’s the best-case scenario. Hopefully for them, Beck will become a serviceable starter. It’s highly doubtful, though, that Beck is capable of leading the Redskins where owner Daniel Snyder and Coach Mike Shanahan expect them to go.
For the Redskins to reach the game’s highest level, they need a dynamic player at the controls on offense. It’s about getting someone who possesses unique talent. What Washington must have, and what Shanahan won’t find by simply hiring another journeyman for his precious system, is a franchise quarterback.
The Panthers clearly have one in Newton, who set the tone on the third play from scrimmage Sunday, eluding Washington’s pass rush and gaining 25 yards on a thrilling run. Carolina took a 3-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, and while the Redskins already knew to expect big things from one of the NFL’s most exciting rookies, their initial up-close look at Newton was even more impressive than they had expected.
“They control their own destiny with a guy like that,” strong safety LaRon Landry said of Newton. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s phenomenal. You just have to keep on building around him.”
Throughout the second half, Newton delivered a series of staggering blows to the Redskins. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft passed for 256 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. He had a 127.5 quarterback rating and also gained 59 yards rushing (with a 5.9-yard average) with a touchdown.
“You can’t coach that kid’s toughness,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “You can’t coach his swag. You can’t coach his attitude and his demeanor to be great. You can’t coach that, man. And that kid definitely has it.”
Although Carolina dropped five of its first six games, the franchise is perceived to be on the upswing because of Newton. Around the NFL, the buzz about the Panthers is very positive. They have an emerging star at quarterback, and that’s the best place to start.
“He’s the real deal,” inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “And the thing is, when you’ve got a franchise quarterback, it gives you confidence you’re gonna have a chance each and every week.
“Especially when you have a young guy like him. He’s a guy you can rally around for the next 10, 12 years.”
Washington has made strides since Shanahan arrived. The organization has drafted wisely and made shrewd decisions in free agency. To be sure, there are reasons for optimism about Shanahan’s direction.
Until the Redskins get it right at quarterback, however, they can only go so far. Their shortcomings there are too big for the rest of the roster to overcome.
The other pieces are much easier to attain. Shanahan has proven as much in erring badly on Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman, who was benched in the fifth game because he made the mistake of doing what he has done throughout his career: He committed too many turnovers.
Beck has the job now, in large part, because Grossman gave the football to opponents too often. Beck is much more athletic than Grossman, and the Redskins capitalized on his skills in play-calling, using play-action passing and rollouts against the Panthers.
In addition to trying to retain the top role this season, Beck also is auditioning to be a place-holder for the current college quarterback the Redskins are expected to draft.
“First time out, he’s always gonna have some growing pains, that’s the nature of the business when you start playing,” Shanahan said. “But you can see his athleticism, his quick release. He was poised in there throughout the game. [He did] different things that you’re looking for a guy to do.”
Then there was Newton, who “made some plays that most quarterbacks don’t make,” Shanahan continued. “He did a great job with his feet. He hung in the pocket. He made some throws that you don’t see very many pros make, especially a young player. That was one of the better days I’ve seen any rookie quarterback have.”
Obviously, Newton is extremely gifted. It could turn out that he’s a once-in-a-generation quarterback. Eventually, though, the Redskins must find one of their own for this generation.