DENVER—Cam Newton absorbed one jarring hit after another from Denver Broncos defenders Thursday night during the NFL’s season-opening game, some of them of the helmet-to-helmet variety.
And practically no one came to the aid of the Carolina Panthers quarterback and reigning league most valuable player.
His teammates failed to block for him adequately in the second half.
The officials didn’t throw many penalty flags on his behalf.
And, by Newton’s account, he did not undergo tests for a potential concussion until after the game.
“I just know tonight it was a very physical game,” Newton said following the Broncos’ 21-20 victory in the Super Bowl rematch. “I do know that, on both sides. I try to warn the refs every time I do get hit in the head. But if the flag’s not called, then it’s okay. We just have to find ways to move the ball and not stay so stagnant for so long periods of time.
“The defense gave us great opportunities. We go up at halftime, come back with the football. We’ve got to find ways to put points up just to keep pressure on those guys. We played in a hostile environment where we were just one play away. … The optimism of it all [is] it’s just the first game of the year. We’ve still got 15 to go. We’re gonna go back, get mended up and be ready for our next opponent.”
Newton is big, sturdy and tough. He and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger are the two NFL quarterbacks who can be properly described as playing the game in linebacker-like fashion. But that doesn’t mean that anyone should be subjected to what Newton endured Thursday night.
The Panthers did a good first-half job of safeguarding Newton, perhaps having learned their lessons from the Super Bowl. Newton was not sacked during a first half in which Carolina crafted a 17-7 lead.
But the Denver pass rushers got to Newton regularly in the second half. Newton was sacked three times and hit hard on other occasions. A particularly rugged hit by Broncos safety Darian Stewart was penalized during Carolina’s final drive, although Newton also was called for intentional grounding on the play and the penalties offset.
NFL rules are designed to protect quarterbacks from being hit in the head while delivering a pass. But several other helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton were not penalized. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall left his feet to deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit on Newton on one play. The only penalty called on that play was a face-masking personal foul against Carolina center Ryan Kalil.
“It’s not my job to question the officials,” Newton said. “I really like this officiating crew. It wasn’t something that I know they did intentionally. But it’s not fun getting hit in the head. We didn’t lose the game off that. I know that for a fact. We’ve just got to find ways to put more drives together.”
Newton appeared close to exiting the game at one point in the third quarter. But he said afterward that he never doubted his ability to continue playing.
“I think it was a very physical game,” Newton said. “We all have jobs to do, including the refs. We have to do our job better and find ways to win football games.”
Newton was pressed on why he wasn’t standing up for himself through his postgame comments when it appeared to many observers that not enough had been done to properly protect him.
“If that’s the case, that’s the case,” he said. “But it is what it is. It’s not gonna make a difference now.”
The NFL has procedures in place to review possibly illegal hits, even if they are not penalized during a game. Fines could be forthcoming from the league office. That would do Newton and the Panthers little good.
On review, the officials probably missed one or two illegal hits against Newton. Marshall’s hit clearly was illegal. Expect him to be fined by the NFL. Von Miller had a borderline hit on Newton on a sack by DeMarcus Ware. Miller hit Newton in the head but there were some mitigating circumstances, as he was engaged by a Panthers’ blocker. It certainly could have been called. Stewart’s hit was penalized. The other hits on Newton were legal, including an early hit on which Newton was out of the pocket and no longer was afforded the same one-step protection he is afforded when inside the pocket.
There also are procedures to review whether the sport’s concussion policies are followed properly. The league and the players’ union jointly monitor that under a new policy. The issue was raised during Newton’s postgame news conference. He was asked by reporters if he’d undergone concussion testing Thursday.
“They asked me a couple questions,” Newton said, “but nothing too serious.”
Those questions were asked after the game, Newton said.
The NFL said in a written statement Friday morning that medical experts on hand Thursday night evaluated the situation and decided there “were no indications of a concussion” warranting further testing or Newton’s removal from the game.
“There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth,” the league’s statement said. “During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play. They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game.”
The league believes the proper concussion procedures were followed Thursday with Newton, according to a spokesman.
Newton, for his part, appeared more focused late Thursday night on the result of the game.
“I feel [bad],” Newton said, actually using a far more descriptive expletive. “That’s what I do feel. I just don’t like to lose. I know you guys [reporters] are anticipating it so much and I’m trying my best to keep it together. But I knew that this was gonna happen, you know, especially from the media standpoint, knowing that: How will Cam react to the media?
“The truth of the matter is, the Denver Broncos are the defending champs for a reason. We came in and had an opportunity to put them away, and we didn’t. Coach [Ron] Rivera always says when you play just good enough, you play just good enough to get beat, too.”