What We Learned From Week 11 in the N.F.L.

This was a reunion of necessity, the Carolina Panthers rolling out the red carpet for Cam Newton once more.

A series of brutal decisions at the most important position in sports gave the Panthers no other choice but to call Newton, the 2015 M.V.P., who departed Carolina in 2019 after nine seasons with the team.

Carolina lost to the Washington Football Team on Sunday, 27-21, and now has a 5-6 record. But if nothing else, we know this out of Week 11:

The quarterback who tore through the league in 2015 for 45 touchdowns en route to the Super Bowl is no more but it’s also true that Newton, 32, had no business waiting for a job until mid-November. After scoring two touchdowns in a limited role last week, Newton started at home on Sunday and did not disappoint with three total touchdowns and 189 yards on 21 of 27 passing.

Of course, the numbers alone never do Newton justice. His arrival itself injected the Panthers with hope out of nowhere. When he was introduced on Sunday, the team blared “Coming Home” by Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey over the loudspeakers. As smoke clouded the tunnel, Newton took a moment to bask in this improbable return before screaming at the top of his lungs and sprinting onto the field.

Since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011, Newton’s energy has been contagious and his unique swagger, on and off the field, gave the entire franchise an identity. But as he accrued injuries in Carolina, it looked as if Newton’s arm was officially shot.

He spent the 2020 season in New England struggling to throw the football, with only eight touchdowns in 15 starts. And after losing a training camp battle to the rookie Mac Jones this past summer, he was released.

Carolina’s post-Newton quarterback plans simultaneously crumbled.

After one season with Teddy Bridgewater as their quarterback, the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold, who stormed out to a 3-0 start this season then regressed each week before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. On Nov. 11, the Panthers essentially said, “Why not?” and signed the most beloved player in franchise history.

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