CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - A joint review by the NFL and NFLPA of the Carolina Panthers' handling of quarterback Cam Newton following a big hit in a playoff loss at New Orleans determined the Panthers did not violate the league's concussion protocol.
Officials determined that eye and knee injuries contributed to Newton appearing unstable after the fourth-quarter hit against the Saints, and found the Panthers' medical staff's evaluation of Newton followed protocol, according to a statement released by the NFL on Wednesday.
The league's enhanced protocol requires players who demonstrate gross motor instability or a significant loss of balance to be evaluated for a concussion in the locker room.
After being drilled by Saints defensive tackle David Oneymata, Newton started walking to the sideline while pointing toward his eye. Newton then went to the ground awkwardly while being met by members of the medical staff before reaching the sideline.
The NFL says Newton was following directions – delivered by former quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey through Newton's helmet transmitter – to take a knee. He went down awkwardly because of a right knee injury the Panthers evaluated during the third quarter, according to the NFL's statement.
An MRI of Newton's knee the day after the game revealed ligament and cartilage damage and "very extensive swelling," according to the league. A Panthers source said Newton will not require surgery for the knee injury.
But Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, told the Observer that Newton could not fully bend his right knee, which caused him to go to the ground "in a somewhat awkward fashion."
Sills said Newton did not show any of the signs that would have warranted a locker room evaluation.
"Gross motor instability does not mean that you take a knee and go to the ground. Gross motor instability is reflective of dysfunction of the cerebellum, the balance center in the brain, where someone can not even keep a vertical posture. And that's clearly not what happened in this case," Sills said in a phone interview.
"And every one of the treating physicians and staff that we interviewed felt that Mr. Newton did not have gross motor instability. He voluntarily took a knee as he was coming off the field at the direction of the medical staff."
Panthers officials maintained they acted properly in their treatment of Newton, who told reporters after the Jan. 7 game that his helmet slid down and injured his eye following the hit.
"It wasn't my head. It was my eye. My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player's stomach, I believe," Newton said. "I thought somebody had stuck a finger in my eye, but I've got a visor so that couldn't happen."
Interim general manager Marty Hurney was confident the Panthers had handled Newton's situation correctly.