The Carolina Panthers' handling of Cam Newton's fourth-quarter injury has drawn the attention of the NFL and NFL Players Association.
Newton exited Carolina's wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints after taking a hit to the head in the fourth quarter. Newton attempted to walk off the hit, but instead sat down on the field near Carolina's sideline and was attended to by team doctors. The QB was then evaluated for a concussion in the medical tent and quickly cleared to return.
The NFL and NFLPA have initiated a review into whether concussion protocol was properly followed after the hit, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Monday. According to the policy developed by the NFL and the union, if it's determined protocol was not properly followed, it could lead to discipline for the team.
Cam's return following a quick tent visit raised eyebrows, considering the NFL's recent modifications to the concussion protocol. These adjustments, implemented on Dec. 11, state that "a player who stumbles and/or falls to the ground when trying to stand, unrelated to an orthopedic injury, should be sent directly to the locker room to undergo the standard locker room exam."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that Cam was taken into the medical tent only as a precaution and that team doctors were more focused on Newton's eye.
"He actually got poked in the eye," Rivera said of Cam after the loss. "They took him in there as a precautionary just to make sure, but when he was sitting on the ground, they were trying to wipe whatever when he got popped. So that's what that was."
Rivera took the same stance on the injury Monday morning and said he didn't think anything had changed with the quarterback's condition, "but, again, I'm not the doctor." He added that Newton still needs to undergo his exit physical.
Newton echoed his coach's description of what happened during the game.
"There were precautionary concussion protocol things that happened, but it wasn't my head. It was my eye," Newton told reporters. "My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid, and it got pressed on a player's stomach, I believe. I thought that maybe somebody had stuck a finger in my eye. ..."
"We wanted [Newton] to sit down [near the sideline] to give [backup QB Derek Anderson] a chance to warm up," Rivera explained. "I mean, he was injured. Instead of trying to bravely walk off, we wanted him to take a knee to give our guy a couple of throws."
Newton re-entered the game on the following drive with less than five minutes to go and with Carolina down 31-19. Newton threw a touchdown to Christian McCaffrey on the ensuing march, but was stonewalled on Carolina's final attempt at a game-winning drive. Cam finished with 349 passing yards, 37 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Anderson entered the game for one play -- an incomplete pass on third-and-17 from Carolina's 10-yard line.