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Roger Goodell: Officials ‘missed at least one’ illegal hit on Cam Newton, discipline coming

Cam Newton took several hits to the head during Thursday night’s NFL season opener. (Associated Press)
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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged Monday that the game officials “missed at least one” illegal hit on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton by Denver Broncos defenders during the league’s season-opening game Thursday. But Goodell suggested that will be addressed by disciplinary action by the league.

Goodell seemed to single out a helmet-to-helmet hit by Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall on Newton.

“That’s what the football staff is going through now, to find out what plays — clearly I know we missed at least one in there,” Goodell said at FedEx Field prior to the Washington Redskins’ game Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. “But you’re also concerned about the fact they even happen, even if you don’t miss them from an officiating standpoint. What is it we can do to try to ensure that those hits don’t occur?

“That’s why we have a process. Obviously hopefully they’re flagged on the field. And then if not, discipline can occur. Jon Runyan is in charge of that aspect of it. So he’s reviewing that and I assume he’ll come out with a decision in the next day or so.”

Why didn’t anyone protect Cam Newton on Thursday night?

The NFL hired Runyan in May as its chief disciplinary officer for on-field infractions. He could fine or suspend Marshall and other Broncos players for Thursday night’s hits on Newton even if those hits were not penalized during the game.

Marshall left his feet to deliver a helmet-to-helmet hit on Newton that was not penalized. Goodell made reference to that play while saying he does not believe that missed calls for illegal hits should be made subject to instant replay review.

“The [competition] committee and the membership [owners] have discussed that a lot,” Goodell said. “And they really did not feel that they wanted to go there. We had a discussion again this spring about that, and they just didn’t want to expand replay into that area. I don’t think that’s the answer necessarily. Sometimes it’s a tough call.

“The one call that I’m aware of that they missed when he was moving back to the offensive line, back to the line of scrimmage, and he pulled back up and went to [being] a passer. He gets that passer protection when he’s in the passing mode. But the defender used a technique that we’ve been trying to get out of the game, frankly. He left his feet and went to the head. It’s ultimately all about the technique that’s used, that’s coached. And we want to make sure it’s not.”

The Broncos’ Von Miller and Darian Stewart also delivered helmet-to-helmet hits to Newton. Stewart’s hit was penalized while Miller’s, which came as he was being blocked by a Carolina offensive lineman, was not.

The NFL and NFL Players Association are investigating whether the sport’s concussion-testing procedures were followed properly with Newton during the game. Newton said he did not answer any concussion-related questions until after the game.

Goodell said he believes the decision not to evaluate Newton during the game was made by the medical experts on hand without competitive considerations coming into play.

“Obviously the concern is for the player first and making sure that the appropriate medical people make those decisions and whether they make a determination,” Goodell said. “And that’s why the first aspect of it is: Are the medical personnel aware of it? They were aware of it. They also saw it on video and they were monitoring it very closely from the trainers to the doctors. … So that aspect is important. The medical timeout, which has been the discussion — there was no issue with that because ultimately the medical personnel were well aware of it and were watching it and were very closely monitoring it. So it’s something we take seriously. It’s something we’ll look at. We have been looking at it. We’ve been looking at the video. We’re talking to the personnel involved.

“We formally have started the process with the union [Sunday]. And they were having meetings today on that. We’ll go through the formal process of that and come to a conclusion. It’s very important to us to see, one, did we follow the protocol correctly? Second: If not, we’ll deal with that within the formal context of the program. And then, finally: What can we learn from it? There’s a responsibility on all of us to get better. It’s a relatively new policy. We want to make sure that we’re [finding] the best way to do this and to make changes as necessary, if necessary. Undoubtedly there will be policy changes to it eventually. I don’t know whether it’s related to this one. We’ll see.”

Goodell pointed out that Newton did not have concussion symptoms.

“There’s concern obviously about the player first, his condition,” Goodell said. “And the good news is he’s never shown any symptoms. And he still doesn’t. So that’s good news on that one. Second, from almost the time I became commissioner, I made the point of saying that medical issues always override competitive issues. And I believe our football personnel fully understand that. They don’t interfere. They allow the medical personnel to do their job. But these are issues that the process and the evaluation — the focus is to allow the medical personnel to make those decisions, not commissioners or reporters or anybody else. Medical personnel need to do that.”