When you're an NFL quarterback, perception equals reality. Jay Cutler certainly found that out this week, when the minor but ill-timed shove of left tackle J'Marcus Webb turned into a referendum on everything from Cutler's own leadership ability to just how far teammates should go in public when they're obviously frustrated with each other.
Late in the Carolina Panthers' Thursday night 36-7 loss to the New York Giants, quarterback Cam Newton was sitting dejected on the sideline when receiver Steve Smith came over and positively earholed the second-year star. Smith objected to the fact that Newton's demeanor wasn't appropriate for an NFL starting quarterback, and he made that clear in no uncertain terms. In Smith's mind, Newton should have acted more like backups Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen.
"I watched D.A. and Jimmy, they don't play in 20-something games last year," Smith told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, adding that he used some "unchoice words" in the process. "And they get up and they observe and learn and get those mental reps. I told [Newton], 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'"
Newton had perhaps the worst game of his career, completing just 16 passes in 30 attempts for 242 yards and three interceptions. But that wasn't Smith's problem. As he told the media, it was far more about what Newton was doing on the bench than on the field.
"Cam Newton has a very unique opportunity to be a franchise quarterback to an organization that needs one. Statistics don't lie. Athletic quarterbacks, they either excel or they fail. And I told Cam that. This is an opportunity for him to learn — at that time they were benching him — and observe. They put D.A. [Derek Anderson] in. You can sit there -- if this is the worst [it's] going to get, you're in for a long day, and this is not what it's about."
This isn't the first time Newton's teammates have taken issue with his demeanor when things go wrong. Last December, he was told by Panthers offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil that he needed to keep his head up when situations aren't perfect.
"They always get on me — I have a bad tendency of showing my emotions on my face. I have to change it, and I'm trying to change it. But those guys constantly stay in my ear, saying, 'You've got to be that same leader from the first quarter to the last quarter' ... It made me mindful it can be somewhat of a detrimental conduct to the team. If you're mad. If you're ticked off. Not saying that everybody else is not feeling the same way you [are]. But at the quarterback position, you have to stay even-keeled."
Newton is a great player for the most part, but these "little things" are enormously important. There may be no position in sports in which intangibles are more crucial than they are for an NFL quarterback, and Newton is learning that the hard way.
Judging from Steve Smith's response, he'd better learn it soon.
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