Last night was opening night for the NFL, and it was a rematch between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos came from behind to defeat the Panthers 21-20 in a thrilling game. However, something was not right last night while watching the game unfold. The game was marred by some serial headhunting from the Broncos defense on Panthers quarterback and superstar, Cam Newton.
Newton led the Panthers to a 17-7 halftime lead with 111 passing yards, a rushing touchdown, and a passing touchdown, and was looking every bit like the star QB he was until very early in the third quarter when DeMarcus Ware got around the edge and sacked him straight into Von Miller. Newton then hobbled to the sideline with an apparent right ankle injury, and he looked a step slower after returning to the game. However, the replay also showed that Miller smashed his face into Newton’s and clearly jarred him with the hit.
Then, later in the game, Brandon Marshall came flying towards a defenseless Newton and went straight at his mouth, helmet first. No penalty was called, and you had to wonder what it was going to take for the flag to be thrown. The most brutal hit of the night, came from Darian Stewart, who went high, helmet first again, into Newton’s head, while Shaq Barrett went low and took him down by the ankles. This time, a flag was thrown for the personal foul, but since Newton’s throw did not clear the line of scrimmage, an intentional grounding call was also made, and the personal foul was offset, and the hit was essentially free.
Newton showed his toughness and stayed in the game despite the beating he was taking all night, and towards the end, guided the Panthers to within field goal range to give them a chance to steal a win, but kicker Graham Gano missed his attempt (after being iced by Broncos coach Gary Kubiak).
Now, when the officials let the Broncos get away with that first hit by Miller, it set the tone for the game to be on a slippery slope. The Broncos continued going at Newton’s helmet, and when the opportunity presented itself on a clear hit, they took it. Although Newton continued to make plays, his effectiveness dwindled until the final drive. If the Broncos were trying to knock him out of the game, they almost succeeded.
This should have been a no-brainer for the NFL to step in and give a concussion test to Newton, but they did not do so, and one has to wonder if it was because Newton was the star player of the game, the marquee name. This could have been the stiffest test of the NFL’s concussion protocol since it was a superstar taking a clear head injury.
Look, we all know that no one wants to be responsible for costing the team a win by holding out a star, especially if that star is the most visible player in the league and he’s leading a late drive in a one-point game. The NFL’s new concussion policy is a better system in theory, but it had no teeth in tonight’s game at all. As long this continues to happen, there won’t be any easy fix to scenarios such as Newton’s on Thursday night.