The Denver Broncos edged out the Carolina Panthers 21-20 in a dramatic Super Bowl rematch to kick of the 2016 NFL season, but a riveting contest was overshadowed by the league’s ignorance of player protection and concussion protocols.
Late in the fourth quarter of the opener, as Cam Newton rolled to his left to avoid pressure, the embattled QB knew he had to make a play.
It had been a tough fight up until that play as the Broncos hit the Panthers hard and fast, just as they did in Super Bowl 50.
This time, it was Newton who was fighting back, showing an uncharacteristic chirpiness that he had not shown in his career. Cam pushed aside the talking, instead trying to assert his will and his play. The repeated skirmishes with TJ Ward and other members of the defensive line were obvious, and they got worse as the game rolled on.
As the game began to swing toward the Broncos, the cameras panned to a tattered and bruised Newton, who looked on from the sidelines. He then strapped on his helmet and hit the field again.
But what got Newton those bruises weren’t all football plays. Newton dealt with nagging leg injuries following an earlier hit that left him doubling over. Three times in the game, Newton was seen lying on the sideline, being examined by trainers. And each time, Newton returned.
Aside from his physical toughness, Cam took some hits that were far from inside the parameters of the rules. Namely, ones like these:
Also don’t forget this hit earlier, where the guy jumped to try to hit Cam with his helmet https://t.co/gj20cBK9Wc
— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) September 9, 2016
Yes, that’s a Broncos player launching himself upwards to strike Newton in the helmet. The play resulted in no penalty on the Broncos, or the player. And, even more frustratingly, it resulted in no missed time for Cam Newton. No tests, no intervention.
Before that, it was DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller sandwiching Newton and giving him the leg injury that would hobble him the rest of the game. But during that play, Ware rocketed his face into Newton’s. And yet again, no flags, no review, and no concussion tests.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 9, 2016
And then, on that fateful play late in the fourth quarter, Newton found himself on the receiving end of another brutal hit from the Broncos’ defense. Again blatant, again unjust.
— Today’sLoop (@TodaysLoop) September 9, 2016
On this play, the Broncos were assessed a roughing the passer penalty. Not a targeting call, or even a personal foul. And, even more mystifyingly, Newton continued in the game. Not examined or checked by any reasonable definition, and allowed to continue play without even the slightest check of health.
What persisted in the game tonight was an incredibly baffling handling of player safety or rules by a league that seems to pride itself on the rules of the game. The NFL has hung its hat on its now-strict enforcement of concussion protocol and protections for players, and the punishment of players found to be headhunting.
Yet, in primetime of the most-watched game of the NFL’s opening weekend, the league failed to protect one of its own to a blatant and dumbfounding affect. On two levels, the NFL failed to enforce the very protocols that it so vehemently proclaims to uphold.
Twice they failed to punish or address players viciously targeting an quarterback head. Even upon replay, which is granted in the new rules, the NFL decided not to address the issue. And even on a play where the officiating crew recognized a late and unjust hit, they refused to appropriately discipline the player involved.
Cam Newton: “It was a very physical game. It’s not my job to question the officials. But it’s not fun getting hit in the head.”
— Max Henson (@PanthersMax) September 9, 2016
But beyond the retribution side of the rulebook that was blatantly ignored, protection for Newton himself was poorly and unbelievably handled. On the first hit, Newton was visibly shaken, and seen on the sidelines trying to gather himself. On the last hit, Newton was again rattled, writhing on the ground to gather himself. And again, nobody at any level stepped in to protect Newton. Instead, he stayed in the game and continued to play.
No concussion tests, no conversation with officials, no interaction with trainers.
In real time on national television, we watched the NFL commit a blatant double standard. It’s hard to believe that Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady could take the hits Newton took and not see ejections or penalties on offending players.
But with Newton, the NFL turned a blind eye. The system broke down and allowed one of its prized pieces, one of the very ones the rules were created for, to be hammered mercilessly, with no respect for the player safety they so heavily speak out for.
And no respect from the Broncos for safe play.