The NFL and the NFL Players Association will investigate whether Panthers and independent medical team members responded properly to the fourth-quarter hit on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in Thursday’s season opener at Denver.
They will be the first investigations conducted by the league and players union since the two entities announced a new policy in July to enforce the NFL's game day concussion protocol and discipline teams that violate it.
“The NFL is committed to the proper application of the concussion protocol,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Sunday. “In order to ensure that it is being applied across all 32 teams, we have decided to initiate a review of the medical team’s response to the Cam Newton tackle.”
The league's statement seemed to suggest the investigation would be conducted jointly with the players union. But the players union will conduct its own investigation, an NFLPA official confirmed Monday.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported Sunday the NFLPA has concerns about how quickly the league initially announced protocol had been followed.
Newton, the reigning league MVP, took at least four helmet-to-helmet hits during the 21-20 loss to the Broncos in a rematch of Super Bowl 50.
The hit in question was the final one absorbed by Newton – a violent collision with Broncos safety Darian Stewart that left Newton on his hands and knees while teammates checked on him.
Stewart’s hit happened in front of umpire Bill Schuster, who watched as Newton initially writhed on the ground and rolled over on his back. During a two-minute delay while officials sorted out offsetting penalties, Panthers trainer Ryan Vermillion came on the field to check on Newton.
But Newton eventually walked slowly back toward the middle of the field. An Observer photograph shows Panthers tight end Greg Olsen yelling at Newton as the quarterback walks away from him.
“I think he was OK. He definitely got hit in the head,” Olsen said after the game. “But when I went down and talked to him, he was fine. He said, ‘Yeah, I’m good, I’m good. I’m just catching my breath.’ ”
The NFL said Friday morning that protocol had been followed. Panthers team doctor Robert Heyer and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant requested a replay of the hit from the athletic trainers serving as concussions spotters in the press box.
“They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal” of Newton from the game, according to the league.
However, a player who is slow to get up following a hit to the head area is among the observable concussion symptoms detailed in the concussion protocol.
Newton was on the ground for about 30 seconds before getting helped up.
Stewart’s hit came with 36 seconds left and the Panthers driving for a potential winning score.
Had game officials or any member of the medical team requested an evaluation of Newton, he would have been sidelined at least one play. Had he been taken into the locker room for a more comprehensive check, Newton would have missed the rest of the game.
Two Denver players – linebacker Brandon Marshall and receiver Jordan Norwood – left in the first half to be evaluated for possible concussions. Both returned after being cleared.
The Broncos had four helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton in the second half, including one by Marshall the league said should have been flagged, according to reports.
Newton said he was asked “a couple questions, but nothing too serious” while being evaluated in the locker room after the loss.
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Newton had passed four concussion tests as of early Friday morning when the team returned home from Denver.
Drummond said the Panthers had no comment on Sunday’s announcement that the situation was being reviewed further.
As part of their investigations, NFL and union officials will review relevant documents and game video and interview involved parties, according to the league statement. If they agree the protocol was not followed, the league and NFLPA will recommend discipline.
If they are at odds whether a violation occurred, the case goes to a third-party arbitrator.
▪ Remedial education for club officials or medical team members and/or a $150,000 maximum fine against the club for a first violation.
▪ A $100,000 minimum fine against the club for any subsequent violations.
▪ Loss of draft picks and additional fines against the club if the commissioner determines the club’s medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations.
In his release, McCarthy, the league spokesman, pointed out the review is not a presumption of improper procedure.
“It is important to note that initiation of this process does not mean that we have seen any evidence that the protocol was implied improperly, but simply reflects our obligation to ensure the health and safety of our players,” McCarthy said.