When Case Keenum suffered a concussion during a November game in 2015, the St. Louis Rams quarterback stayed in the game for the final minute despite clear symptoms of a head injury. The league later called it a "system failure across the board" and vowed to make necessary changes to ensure a similar breakdown didn’t happen again.
But on the NFL’s welcome back night, Cam Newton absorbed several dangerous blows to the head. Most were unpenalized and none resulted in the reigning MVP being removed from the game for further evaluation.
"There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth," an NFL spokesman said in a statement on Friday morning, via Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. "During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play. They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game."
The conclusion that Newton had no indications of a concussion is an odd one to make, especially after a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter from Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart that finally drew a penalty and left Newton facedown on the field.
"There were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation ..." pic.twitter.com/hw6VZusk6i— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) September 9, 2016
In July, the NFL made rule changes to the concussion protocol threatening teams with fines or lost draft picks if the league determines protocol was broken to maintain a competitive advantage. But in the case of Newton, the Carolina Panthers are likely in the clear because the quarterback was never pulled from the game in the first place and an independent neurotrauma consultant didn’t flag him for further evaluation.
"The game was never stopped," Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond told the Charlotte Observer. "We never got a call to the sideline and the independent neurologist never alerted us to stop the game."
His teammates came to Newton’s defense and argued that the league should’ve protected the quarterback more, but also said that he was fine to stay in the game.
"I think he was OK. He definitely got hit in the head. But when I went down and talked to him, he was fine," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told the Charlotte Observer. "He said, ‘Yeah, I’m good, I’m good. I’m just catching my breath.’ There was a penalty so we had time to collect ourselves. He’s a tough dude. We all know that by now."
Newton later told reporters after the game that he passed concussion tests after the game and wouldn’t have been allowed to speak with the media otherwise.