Cam Newton's valiance was clear in a losing effort Sunday at the Saints. The Panthers' following of the NFL's updated concussion protocol following a fourth quarter hit to Newton's head was questionable enough that the league is getting involved.
The NFL is "in contact now with the Panthers' medical staff and we will not comment further until those conversations are complete," a spokesman said Sunday night, via NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. The statement comes less than 90 minutes after Newton was allowed to re-enter in the fourth quarter of a one-score game after missing only one play to be evaluated on the sideline and in the medical tent for a possible concussion.
Newton quickly cleared protocol with the Panthers saying he injured his eye, not his brain, on a second-down sack by Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata with the Panthers trailing New Orleans, 24-19.
After evading pressure by Tyeler Davison, Newton was blasted by Onyemata, who had a free run at the quarterback as Newton was attempting to regain his balance. Newton was hit high and, after attempting to get off the field on his own, dropped to a knee where he was helped by trainers. He was eventually walked off the field and into the medical tent, but didn't go to the locker room.
However, any player who shows "gross or sustained vertical instability" following a hit is now required to be evaluated for a concussion in the locker room, according to the league's updated concussion protocol. That was one of several changes, including the addition of a centralized unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant at the NFL office to monitor games, made to the protocol last month following Texans QB Tom Savage re-entering vs. the 49ers shortly after enduring a helmet-to-helmet hit and showing obvious signs of cognitive impairment.
This isn't the first time the former league MVP's handling for a possible concussion on a national stage has come under fire. In the 2016 season opener, a primetime rematch of Super Bowl 50 between the Broncos and Panthers, Newton was relentlessly battered, including absorbing multiple helmet-to-helmet hits. But Newton was never checked for a concussion, much less a medical timeout even being called, and the public outcry in the game's aftermath heightened awareness of the issue.
Yet after that instance and ones involving Russell Wilson — the Seahawks were fined $100,000 in Week 10 when Wilson wasn't evaluated properly — and Savage prompting changes to the concussion protocol, the NFL's player safety stance remains unclear. Did the Panthers risk Newton's safety in order to get their leader back on the field in crunch time of an elimination game? If the NFL determines they did, a large fine and perhaps additional punishment could be coming.