Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera defends protocol used on Cam Newton

This fourth-quarter hit on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) left him with a sore neck, Newton said after the game.
This fourth-quarter hit on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) left him with a sore neck, Newton said after the game. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

One day after doctors checked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for a possible concussion, Carolina coach Ron Rivera defended the process in a heated exchange with the media.

Rivera said angrily not to “question my integrity” in the team’s handling of Newton after a big helmet-to-helmet hit he took in the third quarter of Sunday’s 41-38 win against New Orleans.

Newton absorbed a hit from Saints linebacker Michael Mauti near the goal line and was slow to get up. A referee hovered over Newton before he got up and the Panthers called a timeout. The Panthers ran three more plays, including one negated by a holding penalty, before Newton went to the locker room.

Both Newton and Rivera said the quarterback decided to go to the locker room and relieve himself while also getting further testing. Newton emerged from the visitors’ tunnel before the Saints had started their third play of the series, a sack that forced a punt.

An NFL spokesman told the Observer the team followed the league rules.

He was evaluated under the protocols, and it was determined he did not have a concussion.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, on the Panthers and Cam Newton

“He was evaluated under the protocols, and it was determined he did not have a concussion,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.

On Monday, Rivera admitted to not knowing all the facts surrounding the incident at the time he met with the media following the game, which led to some initial confusion Sunday night among reporters.

“When (Newton) was over there on the sideline shaking his head, I didn’t see that until it was on replay this morning and saw what happened,” Rivera said. “As the head coach you see certain elements of what’s going on, and I didn’t see that. You know I obviously didn’t know the whole protocol was going on until well after the game.”

The league has been under a microscope in recent years for how it handles head-related trauma. Last month, the Rams came under fire for their handling of quarterback Case Keenum, who put his head in his hands after being slammed to the ground. And a week ago, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was praised for taking himself out of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

Newton mentioned that in his post-game press conference, and Rivera followed up on it Monday.

“I know what happened with the Rams and I know Coach (Jeff) Fisher talked about being in the moment of the game and not knowing,” Rivera said. “I didn’t know yesterday as far as what had happened. When plays happen, you go to the next one. I can see what Coach Fisher was talking about.”

Newton said it was the first time he had been tested for a concussion in a game. He later took another big hit to the head from Hau’oli Kikaha on a 1-yard rush with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

Newton’s helmet seemed to snap back in a whiplash-like motion from the hit, and he was seen hunched over and grimacing after the play. He complained of neck pain after the game.

The effects of that, if any, will be clearer when the Panthers begin practice on Wednesday and release their first injury report of the week.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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