This time, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton stayed and answered every question and stayed clear of criticizing the officials even though it was obvious he was being targeted with helmet-to-helmet hits.
That was a stark contrast to the last time Newton faced a post-game press conference. That was in last season’s Super Bowl to Denver, when Newton answered just a handful of questions with one-word responses and got up and walked out on the press conference after about 90 seconds.
After Thursday night’s Super Bowl rematch loss to the Broncos, Newton wasn’t exactly cheery. But he gave full answers and went out of his way to avoid controversy. That came when Newton was asked about the multiple shots to the head he took. There were four head shots in the second half alone and only one was called for being illegal, but that was wiped out by an offsetting penalty.
“It’s not my place to question the officials,’’ Newton said. “I really like the officiating crew. It wasn’t something I know they did intentionally, but it’s not fun getting hit in the head. We didn’t lose the game off that. I know that for a fact.’’
That was Newton’s way of being diplomatic and it’s nice to see he has matured since the Super Bowl. But no one would have criticized him if he questioned the officials or complained that the Broncos were targeting his head. There’s no question that’s what Denver was doing, especially in the second half.
There was one hit on Carolina’s drive that appeared to be particularly brutal. There was a stoppage of play and NFL officials said the unaffiliated neurotrama consultant and the team physician requested video 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.
But two veteran voices in the Carolina locker room were much more vocal and critical of the hits than Newton.
“I know he’s the biggest guy on the field, but he’s still the quarterback,’’ tight end Greg Olsen said. “We’ll see what some of those hits look like (on film). Obviously, we got one of them but we didn’t get many yards off of it.’’
At a time when the league is going to new lengths to avoid concussions, the officials did nothing to protect Newton.
“Do you see them calling it?’’ Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis said. “Early in the game, a guy took two or three steps and hit him in the head and they didn’t call a penalty. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. It doesn’t matter. They ain’t going to change it.’’
Davis is probably right. Newton is likely to be a target for opposing defenses all season. That’s partly because he’s the best player on the field, and opposing teams will do anything possible to get him off the field. Then, there is the fact that Newton isn’t well liked by players around the league because of his swagger and style.
The NFL could stop this trend by ordering officiating crews to be more vigilant about calling helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton. Penalties have a way of cutting down on such things. So do fines.
But it remains to be seen if the NFL is going to step up and protect Newton. The league may not do that.
That means it’s up to the Panthers to protect their franchise quarterback. They need to do a better job of blocking for Newton and preventing the helmet-to-helmet hits.
If the Panthers don’t do that, Newton is going to get hurt and that will wreck the Panthers’ season.