Cam Newton against the Saints..

The Carolina Panthers came awfully close to pulling off a road comeback win against the New Orleans Saints in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs Sunday, but eventually fell 31-26. Their final drive featured an intentional grounding penalty, a narrow end-zone incompletion and a game-ending sack, and all of those elements are going to be discussed in the wake of this result, as is Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees’ showing (23 completions on 33 attempts for 376 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, including an almost-perfect first half.)

But the biggest questions may be about the Panthers’ quick determination that quarterback Cam Newton didn’t have a concussion, and whether or not that followed the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Early in the fourth quarter following a big hit, Newton stumbled and fell as he went to the sideline. That’s something that would seemingly require a locker-room evaluation under the most recent revision of the league’s concussion protocol. Instead, Newton was evaluated in the injury tent and quickly returned to play, leading to many wondering if Carolina violated the protocol. First, here’s the hit from Saints’ defensive tackle David Onyemata:

And here’s Newton falling down afterwards when he jogged to the sidelines:

But he was evaluated in the tent rather than the locker room, and the team quickly announced that he had been cleared:

And Newton was back in on the next drive. Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith noted how this didn’t seem to match the newly-revised NFL policy:

Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO Chris Nowinski blasted this on Twitter:

As did many others:

Newton wound up having a great game overall, finishing with 24 completions on 40 attempts for 349 yards and two touchdowns plus eight carries for 37 yards. And he even came close on the final drive, getting a couple of passes to the end zone where his receivers had a shot at them. They just didn’t quite work out.

But questions about the concussion evaluation of Newton, and if that actually followed the league’s concussion protocol, are going to be a big storyline this week, and they may prompt further NFL policy changes (or changes to the on-field enforcement of those policies). It’s not the first time a hit on Newton has done that, as the Sept. 2016 hit on him in a game against the Denver Broncos already led to policy changes.

This situation does perhaps show that even the countless revisions to the NFL policy haven’t eliminated questions around the league’s concussion protocol and how it’s implemented.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.