His dismissal summed up a bad team display. James, already on a booking for time wasting, was outmaneuvered by Anthony Gordon and pulled the Newcastle winger back after a poor touch to earn a second yellow card. He is now suspended for Brighton next weekend.
Mauricio Pochettino had hoped James would complete his first 90 minutes since April but admitted afterward he was "disappointed" in his captain.
“I take full responsibility for my red card," James said. "Another lesson for me to learn. I'd like to apologise to the fans and my team-mates."
James, who had been one of the better Chelsea performers until his red card, was chosen for the captaincy because he is someone who truly understands the tough club culture built by legends like Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard.
The academy graduate and Chelsea fan has been leaning on Thiago Silva for advice and even went to France during the international break to pick the brains of South Africa's Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi.
He is doing his best, but stopping Chelsea’s decline is a heavy burden on a young captain who is also trying to perform himself to get back in the England team ahead of the Euros.
Pochettino was measured in his criticism of one of his best players, knowing James will be key to any Chelsea revival. But, for the first time, Pochettino refused to put a positive spin on a loss, calling out his players as "soft" and admitting to being "very, very, very, very angry."
His feeling is they continue to ignore his advice about being “more competitive,” meaning players must be willing to make contact with either the ball or opposing players in duels, be ready to use the dark arts and really strive for victories.
Injury-hit Newcastle did not play particularly well but used all those qualities to overcome Chelsea. “We just felt on top of them,” Magpies captain Lascelles said. “And after the second goal, they lost their heads a little bit, and we took advantage.”
After receiving three yellow cards himself and earning a suspension, Pochettino sat in the directors' box at St James’ Park. He had co-owner Behdad Eghbali sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart for company.
Pochettino expressed his anger and disappointment at his side’s spectacular collapse against Newcastle, who scored three times in the final 30 minutes as Chelsea’s defence lost its shape and their mini-revival was brought to a halt.
James needs to play a vital leadership role in stamping out the softness.