What happened to Cam Newton on Thursday night was an absolute travesty.
I am glad the Panthers quarterback still has his head attached to his body after Denver’s 21-20 win over Carolina Thursday night. But that head remains there despite game officials who allowed Denver’s players to repeatedly target Newton’s head – without any actual penalty yardage being marked off – and because the NFL’s new and supposedly stronger concussion policy proved to be as weak as a kitten.
No one stopped this fight. And it should have at least been paused several times to check the extent of damage to Newton’s brain. How Newton was able to stay in the game without being thoroughly checked several times for concussions after at least four helmet-to-helmet hits is both unfathomable and ridiculous.
“It’s not fun getting hit in the head,” Newton said about an hour after the game when he met the press. He answered questions diplomatically for someone who had just taken so many blows to the brain, and for someone whose team had lost a one-point game when Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
Newton said he didn’t think he was targeted by Denver’s defenders, that he “really likes this officiating crew” and that “it is not my job to question the officials.”
I usually don’t think it’s my job to question them, either. Normally I steer away from writing “the refs did the home team wrong” columns when any team from North Carolina loses a game. I think that’s almost always a cop-out.
But in this case, after watching numerous replays of all the helmet-to-helmet hits Newton took, I am furious – and not because of the game’s outcome.
Why wasn’t game paused?
Hey, Gano should have made that field goal in Denver’s high altitude. Conditions were great, and that’s what Gano is paid to do. Newton, obviously hurting, somehow put the Panthers in position for the game-winner. He played exceptionally well overall, I thought, with two TDs and 258 total yards.
But should the quarterback have even been on the field at the end? It’s debatable – and yet there was no debate.
What happened Thursday to Newton just can’t be allowed to happen. You have to protect the quarterbacks.
The situation worked out the way the Panthers probably wanted, in that they want Newton in the game when it is being decided. But the new concussion protocol is in place to save all NFL teams from themselves in these very situations. They don’t have to make the decision to bench a star player.
Independent concussion spotters in the booth can stop the game. Independent neurologists on either sidelines can stop the game. Officials can stop the game.
No one stopped the game.
Oh, the game got stopped for numerous officiating huddles, usually to determine that a flag that had been thrown actually needed to be picked up. And it got stopped for thousands of commercials featuring Peyton Manning.
But it was not stopped for a franchise quarterback getting blasted, again and again, in the head. Only one of the four helmet-to-helmet hits Newton took drew a flag, and that one was offset because Newton was flagged on the very same play for throwing the ball away. He made the throw quickly as he braced for yet another brain-rattling blow, so that in itself is a dumb rule. How do you get an intentional grounding call while you are in the middle of taking a personal foul?
‘A couple of questions’
Newton was somewhat unclear afterward about whether he had actually been placed in the concussion protocol – although I won’t be surprised if he is placed in it on Friday. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised, in fact, if he is determined to have a concussion and misses the Panthers’ next game, on Sept. 18. He took an absolute beating in the second half.
Newton did say he was “asked some questions” after the game ended to determine whether he had a concussion, by someone he didn’t identify.
“They asked me a couple of questions,” Newton said, “but nothing too serious.”
“I don’t know, there’s too much going through my head right now for me to remember that,” Newton said.
Newton also said he felt “sh---y,” although he sounded like he meant because the Panthers lost. He was making an obvious effort to avoid a repeat of his cringe-worthy Super Bowl news conference, saying he knew part of the postgame narrative would include how he reacted to a defeat.
Said Newton: “I just don’t like to lose. ... I’m trying my best to keep it together.”
The quarterback threw for one touchdown and ran for another. He also pleased your dentist when he flossed his teeth on the sideline during this game (Newton said he needed to do so because of some oranges he ate at halftime).
But all the talk after the game was understandably about whether he had a concussion or not and whether he felt he was targeted by the Broncos with all the helmet-to-helmet hits.
Newton never blamed the Broncos or the officials.
“I try to warn the refs every time I do get hit in the head, if the flag is not called then it’s OK,” Newton said. “We just have to find ways to move the ball and not stay so stagnant for so long.”
How many brain cells was that?
Look, football is a crazily brutal game already. Hits to the head must be punished, then and there, with penalty yardage. Fines after the fact won’t do it. Teams and players will happily pay thousands of dollars in fines if that’s the cost of running a winning business.
The early hits should have been penalized to give Denver an incentive not to provide the late hits. And if those hits came anyway, then someone upstairs or on the field in a position of power absolutely must stop the game. Get Newton out of there if that’s what needs to happen, but at least get him checked.
That’s the NFL’s Most Valuable Player out there, he’s getting creamed with illegal hits, and it’s just “Play on”?
That’s not only flat-out wrong, it’s extremely dangerous.
Newton played well through all of it. Although the Panthers didn’t win, he played winning football. He was far better overall than he was in the Super Bowl. He showed a lot of heart.
But at what cost?
How many brain cells did Cam Newton lose Thursday night?
And in 17 years at Chosen Sebastian Newton’s high school graduation, will his father be healthy enough to enjoy it?