So much about one play during Monday night’s Panthers victory against Washington was the same as it ever was.
Big, rumbling quarterback Cam Newton was scrambling during the first half and slid. As he did, linebacker Trent Murphy appeared to tackle him with helmet-to-helmet contact.
That portion of the play was not flagged.
Something else that was identical to a past incident?
Walt Coleman was the lead official, and his crew was the same as that for the Panthers’ home game against the Arizona Cardinals this season, during which defensive lineman Calais Campbell hit Newton below the knees, a play that went without a flag on Campbell.
The rant that followed that game was lengthy, and passionate. Newton said not getting calls like that was “taking the fun out of the game,” and that he could have torn his ACL and that was his “breaking point.”
He said other quarterbacks across the league had gotten flags for hits missed on him all the time. He also said he didn’t feel safe, clarifying that this was while he was in the pocket, and not as a runner.
That week, he even spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the matter, as did coach Ron Rivera.
Monday night, Newton lost his temper after springing up from the slide and threw the ball at Murphy’s back. He was flagged for taunting and slapped with a 15-yard penalty that knocked his offense out of field goal range.
“I’ve got to be better than that,” he admitted after the game, and yes, there was no excuse for the response. “I thought it was a questionable hit, but I can’t throw the ball at a person.”
Yet if forcible contact by an opposing player’s helmet is considered, one would think the resulting penalties would have at least offset.
Same ol’ dance for Newton, but without the song to match in the postgame news conference – this time, there was no rant.
Did he think the referees did their job?
“Next question,” he said.
A minute later, another question: Was he surprised he had an issue with the same officiating crew?
“Next question,” he said.
Rivera said after the game he thought there was illegal helmet-to-helmet contact. He also said he “without a doubt” thinks that a season full of questionable hits and noncalls – heck, a career full of them – played into how Newton reacted to Murphy’s hit.
“On the sideline, yes,” he said. “When I went over to talk to (Cam) real quick, he looked at me and he said, ‘Coach, he hit me.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And that’s all I needed to know. … Again, they’re trying to judge it at full speed.”
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins got a flag in his favor after being pushed out of bounds by Panthers defensive lineman Kawann Short during the second half.
The hit and the resulting penalty on Short looked worse when juxtaposed against the noncall – Cousins appeared on replays to still be in bounds when Short made contact with him to push him out of bounds. Cousins toppled to the ground (taking out a cheerleader in the process) and the whistle blew.
Coleman had a chance to explain his reasoning after the game to pool reporter Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today.
“Well, what I saw was that Cam slid late and the defender went over the top,” he said. “I didn’t see any forcible contact with the head.
“We just work the game, and if it’s a foul, we call it a foul,” he added. “If it’s not, we don’t. We just officiate the game and do the best of our ability. So, you know, it doesn’t make any difference to us who is playing or who the quarterback is.
“We’re trying to get the plays correct.”