SEATTLE -- A dress code violation.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse or stranger or sillier for the Carolina Panthers, reigning league MVP Cam Newton was benched for the first series of Sunday night’s 40-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks for violating a team travel dress code.
Yes, the player known for his sequined shoes and designer pants a year ago, his designer hats and feathers this season, was penalized for a fashion blunder.
He wore a black turtleneck instead of the required tie on Saturday's team flight from San Jose, California, to Seattle.
It didn’t lose the game, mind you. Even Newton acknowledged that.
"We didn't lose this game because of a tie,'' said Newton, wearing the same outfit he wore on the plane. "It was a lot of execution errors, it was a lot of things that we had our opportunities and we failed at it.''
But benching Newton set the tone.
With him standing on the sideline in his colorful “cause cleats,” backup quarterback Derek Anderson threw an interception on the first play and everything unraveled from there.
A so-called 10-day business trip on which the goal was to go 2-0 and get back into playoff contention ended in a winless mess.
The way the game got out of hand showed just how this season has progressed for the defending NFC champions, who have fashioned just about every way imaginable to lose.
"Right now, the reality is we need to stop worrying about this other s---, playoffs . . . we’re just not very good right now,'' Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen said. "That’s the reality. We’re in trouble now just trying to win one game.
"That’s all anybody should care about. Win one game, prepare that way, execute and win one game. That’s it.’’
The Panthers aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. But at 4-8, three games behind Atlanta (7-5) and Tampa Bay (7-5) with four games remaining, they are done.
This was by far the most embarrassing moment in a season of embarrassments for Carolina.
We’re not talking style now.
We’re talking basic, fundamental football that allowed Seattle to put up 534 yards of total offense.
There were missed tackles, missed assignments and missed opportunities that made this game a microcosm of the season.
But instead of blowing the game in the fourth quarter as the Panthers have in five decided by a field goal or less coming in to this night, they were blown away by the team they defeated twice last season en route to the Super Bowl.
Catastrophic injuries to the offensive line and the absence of defensive leader Luke Kuechly for the second straight game with a concussion made this a catastrophe waiting to happen.
But it was made worse by the lack of discipline, beginning with Newton failing to follow a simple team rule.
Newton is supposed to set an example, not have an example made of him. He acknowledged that, although he also suggested he's worn a similar outfit on a road trip before and not been punished.
"Well, in a sense I did,'' he said of letting the team down. "But needless to say I think there is a lack of communication on my part and I think I have to be clear moving forward what certain things are done.''
Carolina's future this season is clear.
Sunday’s loss cemented that the Panthers will continue their streak of never having consecutive winning seasons. It assured they will be the first team in NFL history not to have a winning record after winning 15 games the previous season.
It assured Newton’s fall from league MVP to the league’s most disappointing player.
The player that threw a career-best 35 touchdowns and ran for 10 more a year ago statistically is headed for his worst season as a pro.
The team that seemingly could do nothing wrong until it got to the Super Bowl a year ago seemingly can do nothing right.
This entire season in many ways has been a dress code violation.
No swagger. No style.
"As a team we're going to keep putting ourselves in this position if we don't maximize the opportunities that we do get in the game,'' Newton said.
"For the people who have been playing effort has been there, but as far as trust in the plan and trust in each other I think that's something that we all can get better at, including myself.''
He can start by wearing a tie.