Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is examined after being sacked during the fourth quarter Sunday. (Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports)

NEW ORLEANS — The NFL said it was in contact with the medical staff of the Carolina Panthers about the handling of an injury suffered by quarterback Cam Newton during Sunday’s playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, trying to determine whether the league’s concussion protocols were properly followed.

“We are in contact now with the Panthers’ medical staff and we will not comment further until those conversations are completed,” the NFL said in a written statement issued through a spokesman.

It appears that the review will focus on whether Newton fell on his way to the Panthers’ sideline after absorbing a fourth-quarter hit or was told by a member of Carolina’s medical staff to drop to his knees.

Newton absorbed a hard hit by Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata on a sack. He got to his feet and headed toward the Panthers’ sideline. Before getting there, he dropped to his knees on the turf. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson took over under center while Newton was examined in the medical tent on the Panthers’ sideline.

The Panthers later announced that Newton had been cleared to return to the game after being evaluated for a possible concussion. The team wrote on its Twitter account: “Cam Newton has been evaluated for a concussion and cleared.”

Newton finished the game as the Panthers lost, 31-26, at the Superdome and saw their season end.

Panthers Coach Ron Rivera and Newton said after the game that the issue was that the player had been hit in the eye. Rivera said during his postgame news conference that Newton was told to sit down near the sideline to give Anderson an opportunity to warm up before going into the game.

Under recent modifications made to the NFL’s procedures for evaluating and dealing with possible concussions suffered by players during games, any player who stumbles or falls must be taken to the locker room for evaluation. A sideline concussion evaluation is not considered sufficient under those circumstances.

The NFL and NFL Players Association said in a joint written statement late last month that the changes being made to the protocols included the requirement of “a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).”

The changes came in conjunction with a decision not to punish the Houston Texans for their handling of a concussion suffered by quarterback Tom Savage. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 by the NFL last month for their handling of a concussion evaluation of quarterback Russell Wilson after the league and players’ union determined that the protocols had not been followed properly in that case.

The Panthers’ handling Sunday of Newton’s injury drew criticism by Chris Nowinski, the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.

“I cannot believe the NFL blew their new concussion protocol in the 2nd week with Cam Newton,” Nowinski wrote on Twitter. “Heads need to roll, and I’m not talking about the helpless concussed players who are receiving negligent medical care[.]”

According to Nowinski, it does not matter whether Newton was told to drop to a knee.

“Even if he was faking an injury to buy time, since he went down right after a massive head impact, the new NFL concussion protocol dictates he had to go the locker room for a full evaluation,” Nowinski wrote. “He did not. So the protocol was breached whether he had a concussion or not.”

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said he could not tell whether Newton was displaying any symptoms of a concussion.

“I’m not here to make that type of judgment,” Jordan said in the Saints’ postgame locker room. “Apparently, supposedly, allegedly there’s guys somewhere in the sky boxes that are watching that. But didn’t he look a little glazed? A little fazed? He wasn’t unfazed.”

Jordan said the hit that Newton absorbed was significant. He was surprised to see Newton return to the game, he said.

“Did you see the hit?” Jordan said. “Look, he like spun…. He was down. He’s a hell of a competitor. He tried to make a larger-than-life play. And I think David Onyemata shut that door for him. … We saw him rock back and forth. He had the typical Cam Newton face on after a sack. And then of course he tried to like … muster himself up to get off to the sideline and broke down there.”

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