The weird subplot from the Carolina Panthers’ victory on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints only got weirder Monday as the he said/he said between Cam Newton and referee Ed Hochuli continued.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, said on NFL Network Monday morning that Hochuli denied telling Newton he was “not old enough” to get a late-hit penalty on the fourth-quarter play.
“I certainly wasn’t there, but I’ve spoken with Ed. Ed was adamant that he did not say that,” Blandino said. “He told me that he said that, ‘The difference is you were running.’ I think when you look at the tape it does look like Ed did say that, I think at one point. You can’t see everything that Ed says, but he’s adamant he didn’t say it and I think that’s where we are right now and we’re just going to kind of move on from there.”
The controversy started when Newton scrambled to his right to extend a play. Saints defensive tackle Tyeler Davison gave chase and hit Newton around the time he threw the ball.
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Newton and Davison fell to the ground, and there was no flag thrown. After the game, Newton said he was “baffled” by what Hochuli told him.
“I was rolling out trying to string out the play and create some type of opportunity to get a completion and the defensive lineman, you know, kind of hit me. It was close. It was right on the cusp,” Newton said Sunday. “Was it a late hit? I don’t know. But the response that I got was, ‘Cam you’re not old enough to get that call.’
“I’m looking at him like what? Jesus. I didn’t think you had to have seniority to get a personal foul or anything like that,” Newton said. “You just have to be accountable. It’s one thing to be frustrated in a situation where you see a personal foul on the opposing quarterback get called, and then for me when it’s something around the same range and for that flag not to be called, it’s…I’m ticked off. Really.”
Team and league sources have indicated there’s likely no way of finding out for sure what was said. Newton was not mic’d up by NFL Films or the Panthers’ in-house media team for the game, and no nearby microphone appears to have picked up the discussion.
A source also indicated Newton is not likely to be fined for his comments criticizing an official.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn’t want to touch on the matter in his weekly Monday press conference, but he said a late-hit call for a player the size of Newton – 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds – could be viewed differently than other quarterbacks in the league.
Blandino defended the no-call by saying that because Newton was outside of the pocket and throwing the ball on the run, he didn’t get the same protection rule as a quarterback in the pocket. Outside the pocket, a quarterback doesn’t get the “two-step protection” rule.
When Newton first entered the league in 2011, Panthers coaches talked with league officials about how they would view Newton as a runner while playing quarterback.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said Newton sometimes doesn’t get treated like a quarterback because he doesn’t look or run like a quarterback on the field, but he added that there’s no grand conspiracy against Newton going into games.
“Cam spoke for himself,” Olsen said. “It doesn’t take a lot of us re-echoing what he said. He said what he needed to say. He’s a big boy, he’s an intelligent guy, he’s a responsible spokesman. He doesn’t just say nonsense, and he said what he felt he needed to say.”
Blandino acknowledged the perception that bigger, more mobile quarterbacks get fewer calls than the standard pocket passers, but said that’s not taken into account when officials make these calls.
But what’s at issue is what was said. Newton said what he had to say Sunday and Hochuli stood his ground. And in the absence of any audio proof, this may be where the controversy comes to an end.
“Any official could be disciplined if they say something inappropriate and we do not teach that the number of years a player is in the league is going to determine whether a foul is called,” Blandino said. “It’s the posture that he’s in and was there a violation. So saying something to that effect is certainly something that is not appropriate. Again, Ed is adamant that he didn’t say it and that’s where we are.”