The Carolina Panthers could face scrutiny from the NFL and NFL Players Association after quickly clearing quarterback Cam Newton to play Sunday, less than two weeks after a league mandate requiring more extensive concussion testing for players demonstrating obvious symptoms.
Newton was slow to get up after New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata hit him with eight minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the Panthers’ 31-26 loss. He was replaced by backup Derek Anderson and, as he moved toward the sideline, Newton went to the ground and appeared to be pointing toward his right eye.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game that Newton had been poked in the eye. But in revisions to its concussion policy announced Dec. 29, the NFL said it would “require 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).”
Those symptoms appeared to match Newton’s actions. But the Panthers never took Newton to the locker room. Instead, they announced he was tested for a concussion on the blue sideline tent and cleared. He returned to the game for the Panthers’ next series and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to tailback Christian McCaffrey on this third play back.
Even if the Panthers were primarily concerned about Newton’s eye, their decision to eschew a locker room trip — at a time when they were trying to erase a deficit and advance in the postseason — will merit a closer look by league and union officials.
Since the start of the season, the NFL/NFLPA have conducted at least two investigations into potential violations of their concussion protocol. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for failing to test quarterback Russell Wilson after he was sent off the field in Week 10. More recently, the league found no violations but announced its Dec. 29 revisions in response to the Houston Texans‘ decision to clear quarterback Tom Savage after he presented obvious concussion symptoms on the field, including the fencing posture.