Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said it was an issue with his eye – not his head – that sent him to the sideline to be checked for a concussion in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the New Orleans Saints.
Newton left for one play after taking a big hit from defensive tackle David Onyemata with about nine minutes left in the Saints’ 31-26 win at the Superdome.
Newton walked toward the Panthers’ sideline and sat down before getting to the bench area. Team doctors and trainers checked on Newton and took him to the medical tent before clearing him to return.
Derek Anderson replaced Newton for one play, an incompletion that forced the Panthers to punt.
“It wasn’t my 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,” Newton said. “I thought somebody had stuck a finger in my eye, but I got a visor so that couldn’t happen.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera thought Newton had been poked in the eye.
“They took him in there as a precautionary just to make sure,” Rivera said. “But when he was sitting on the ground, they were trying to wipe whatever when he got popped. So that’s what that was.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was in contact with the Panthers’ medical staff about its handling of the situation.
The NFL and the union announced changes to the protocol last month after Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage was allowed to return to the field after a hit against the San Francisco 49ers left him on the ground with his arms shaking.
Among the changes: Players who stumble or fall while trying to stand are required to undergo a concussion evaluation in the locker room, not on the sideline.
But Rivera said Newton took a seat at the urging of the sideline.
“We wanted him to sit down (short of the sideline) to give (Anderson) a chance to warm up. I mean, he was injured,” Rivera said. “Instead of trying to bravely walk off, we wanted him to take a knee to give our guy a couple of throws.”
Newton returned for the next offensive series with about five minutes left and the Panthers trailing 31-19. He threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey and had Carolina in scoring position in the final minute before the rally fell short.