Panther Tracks

Is Panthers QB Cam Newton not being treated fairly by NFL officials? National talking heads chime in

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) gets hit in the back of the helmet by Washington defensive end Trent Murphy (93) while sliding down in the first half at FedExField on Monday, December 19, 2016. The Panthers won, 26-15.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) gets hit in the back of the helmet by Washington defensive end Trent Murphy (93) while sliding down in the first half at FedExField on Monday, December 19, 2016. The Panthers won, 26-15.

Moments after Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton tried to slide on Monday Night Football and appeared to be hit on top of his helmet by Washington defensive end Trent Murphy, a familiar conversation began to erupt:

Is Newton getting a fair shake from NFL officials?

Newton didn’t get a call after the play, which began with him sliding and giving himself up. In fact, a flag did go up, against Newton, for tossing the ball at Murphy, which he later apologized for. But ESPN SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt came on late night TV right after the game and told America that, at worst, the non-call and real call should’ve offset each other, leaving Carolina in field goal range – instead of backed up 15 yards and having to attempt a punt that left Washington with a real chance to steal the game.

On Twitter, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon was a bit more blunt. He called for an immediate suspension of the officiating crew and said Newton is absolutely correct when he complains about not getting the same calls that other NFL quarterbacks get (including Washington’s Kirk Cousins, who got a call in his favor after being pushed out of bounds by Panthers defensive lineman Kawann Short in the second half on a play that appeared to be legal).

Of course, there’s an opposing view.

On Fox Sports’ “Undisputed” debate show, Skip Bayless said the officials got the call right, that Newton slid too late and that Murphy “might have skimmed the top” of Newton’s head, but there “was not significant enough contact” to throw a flag.

“We’ve all been conditioned to think,” Bayless said, “that Cam is not protected by the refs and too often he doesn’t get the call he deserves because he’s treated more like a runner than a QB. We were seeing a ghost (during Monday’s play) because we wanted to see a ghost. It took me about four replays to see it, but I’m very surprised to see they got it right.”

On ESPN’s “First Take” debate show, Max Kellerman took the opposite view, saying he believes that some NFL officials “have it out” for Newton.

“Like (former Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez), Cam seems so disingenuous at times. He seems so uncomfortable in his own skin, he makes you uncomfortable in yours watching him. He seems as though everything he says is calculated to create an effect in the listener instead of just telling you what he feels. ... That said, and even if he complains about it and the refs don’t like him, justice is supposed to be blind. That was helmet-to-helmet, cut and dried. There should’ve been a flag. ... It looks to me – and maybe it was a honest mistake – but it looks to me like some of the referees have it out for him.”

A few sports channels away, back on Fox, NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe agreed with Kellerman’s take.

“Absolutely that flag should’ve been thrown,” Sharpe said. “Cam says, ‘I can’t get protection in the pocket.’ We’ve seen Cam in the Rams game, a guy launches himself and goes helmet-to-helmet with Cam in the pocket, and no flag. We’ve seen (a guy) hit Cam in the knees, no flag. Cam cannot get protected in the pocket, and Cam leaves the pocket and they say, ‘Once you leave the pocket, you can no longer get protection as a quarterback. If you want protection, you need to get down.’ Cam Newton says, ‘I hear you loud and clear because I don’t want to be in the concussion protocol ever, ever again.’ So Cam slides and now he can’t get a call.”

Sharpe said, after viewing NFL statistics, that Newton has gotten two unnecessary roughness penalties this year, compared with six for Cousins and Drew Brees and five for Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco and Dak Prescott.

Sharpe doesn’t think that’s right.

“I went through the rule book last night,” Sharpe said, “and I didn’t see anywhere where they said, ‘We won’t throw a flag if a person is big, if he’s strong or if he’s hard to officiate. They use that in Cam’s argument. He’s like Shaq. It’s so hard to (officiate) Shaq. But if you chop Shaq on the arm or Stephen Curry on the arm, a (foul) should be called. If you make contact with Cam Newton’s helmet, a flag should be thrown, if he’s given himself up. This is a bunch of malarchy and the NFL needs to be ashamed of itself because he doesn’t get the (same) treatment of another QB, let alone an MVP. No matter what you think of him, at the end of the day, he should afforded the same protection in the pocket that Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady gets.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr