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Panthers Say They Followed Concussion Protocol – In Denver and Over the Years

It’s somewhat ironic that the Carolina Panthers, whose NFL MVP quarterback on Thursday took hit after hit to the head, are now in the crosshairs of the latest NFL investigation.

Shortly after the NFL Players Association on Sunday said it was looking into how the Panthers and independent doctors treated Cam Newton during the final moments of the season opener, the NFL announced it was also launching an investigation.

Because of an agreement announced in late July between the NFL and NFLPA, teams who violate the concussion protocol on game day could be subjected to fines and the loss of draft picks. So as they try to turn the page toward San Francisco in Week Two, the Panthers are now on the defensive about how they responded to all the hits Newton took in Denver.

Photo: Margaret Bowles
Photo: Margaret Bowles

“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our medical staff,” coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

“We follow the protocol the way it's been explained to us, and I say that because of what we've done the last few years.”

While we don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes, the Panthers have appeared to be prudent whenever one of their players has suffered a head injury during the NFL’s newfound emphasis on player safety.

The most obvious example came last year when linebacker Luke Kuechly was immediately ruled out of the season opener when he suffered a concussion after making a tackle while leading his head. Then, despite pressure from the outside to put the Pro Bowler back on the field, the Panthers held Kuechly out for three more games.

“He was dying to get back in and they wouldn't let him,” center Ryan Kalil recalled. “He's arguably one of the best defensive players in the league — I'd want him back in there, too. So I think our guys have done a great job with that stuff over the years.”

Before they decided to investigate the aftermath of the Newton hits further, the NFL on Friday seemed to clear the league-mandated independent neurologist and the Panthers’ medical staff.

“They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game,” the league said in a statement.

At least one person who was in the huddle with Newton agreed.

“I saw a guy who's trying to score. I saw a guy who was trying to get us in a good position to win,” Kalil said.

“If he had any problems I didn't see it. We were talking about one the protections, and he reminded me about something we talked about earlier in the week, so I thought he was fine.”

According to a Panthers’ official, Newton passed four concussion-related tests administered from when the team was getting ready to leave Denver to when it arrived back in Charlotte. As of Monday, Newton still wasn’t showing any signs of symptoms.

“He's tough, he's resilient and he's moving around pretty good,” said Rivera, who expects Newton to play against the 49ers.

It’s unclear how long the NFLPA and NFL will take to conduct their separate investigations, but Rivera, who hasn’t yet been contacted by either, hopes “by Wednesday we'll have all these questions answered and we can focus on San Francisco.”

That seems like wishful thinking, though. The league isn’t often speedy with its investigations, so this story — and the questions that come with it — could hang around for a bit.

“I play football and let those people handle (the concussion protocol). That's not for me to comment on who did what. All I know is the people around here — our staff, our trainers, our doctors — they care a lot about these guys,” tight end Greg Olsen said.

“They're never going to put a guy out there if he shouldn't be out there and they're never going to overlook that stuff. That's what I know.”

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  • Flex On My Ex

    I hope we see Denver again this year. This team needs to stay sharp for 4 quarters, last year was the same thing, build a lead and soften up, they need to keep going from start to finish. 3 second half points is going to lose a lot of games.

  • Edward Moore

    Jerry its time to take down the shield and put the Panther on the field!

  • Don

    Classic misdirection by NFL. We might not have done what we say is important…but look at what you guys did! Victim shaming at its worst.