Cam Newton‘s exit from the field and return to Sunday’s NFC wild-card game after taking a hard hit in the fourth quarter raised questions about whether the Carolina Panthers followed the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“We are in contact now with the Panthers’ medical staff and we will not comment further until those conversations are completed,” the NFL said in a statement Sunday night.
Newton slowly got to his feet after he was tackled by New Orleans defensive lineman David Onyemata with 8:26 left in the Panthers’ 21-16 loss. After getting to his feet, Newton made his way toward the sideline but then took a knee before getting off the field.
The Panthers’ medical staff evaluated Newton in the blue injury tent on the sideline and determined that he did not show signs of a concussion.
Newton returned for the next offensive series after missing just one play and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to rookie Christian McCaffery.
The new league policy that went into effect in late December mandates that players head to the locker room for more extensive testing when exhibiting symptoms related to a concussed state.
The NFL’s December statement reads, “(r)equire a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was ready with an answer.
“He actually got poked in the eye,” Rivera told reporters. “They took him in there as a precautionary (measure) just to make sure. But when he was sitting on the ground, they were trying to wipe whatever when he got popped. So that’s what that was.”
Newton offered the same injury diagnosis as his coach.
“I know it was precautionary things for a concussion,” Newton said, “but it wasn’t a hit to the head, it was my eye. My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player’s stomach, I believe. I thought somebody stuck their finger in my eye, but I’ve got my visor, so that couldn’t happen.”
If the NFL investigates and determines that protocol was violated, the Panthers could face a penalty.