With 9:12 to go in the NFC Wild Card on Sunday, Cam Newton took a vicious hit from Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. Newton was dazed and slow to get up. Once he did, he jogged gingerly toward the sideline but didn’t make it. He stopped and dropped to his knees. Newton, many assumed, had suffered a concussion.
Only he missed just one play and re-entered the game, which the Panthers lost 31-26.
Afterward, Newton said that his helmet slipped down and caused an eye injury. Either way, concussion protocols were not followed. By rule, any player who stumbles or falls when trying to stand or who exhibits loss of balance or motor instability must be evaluated for a concussion in the locker room. Newton, however, merely entered the medical tent and returned minutes later.
Frank Garcia felt Carolina handled the situation just fine.
“I think there’s some sensitivity – maybe even over sensitivity,” the Panthers analyst said on Taz & The Moose. “A lot of times, you see a guy get hit and everybody just assumes it’s a concussion. I think trainers are over-cautious a lot of times when it comes to those things, in particular the Carolina Panthers. I think that they absolutely did everything they could to make sure he was going to be okay. I thought initially when he got popped, he was reaching for his eyes. Sometimes your helmet can slide down. It can come down and water those eyes a little bit. But you’re absolutely right: He got blasted, came back, and continued to play well.”
Coaches, Garcia said, often tell players to go down if they’re coming off the field after a possible injury. Part of this is for safety, but another part – maybe an even bigger part – is for clock management.
“A lot of times, the clock will be running down, you’re trying to get the guy off the field, the clock’s still running and they’re not going to stop it unless you get off the field or there’s a time for injury,” Garcia explained. “They’ll start everything all over. That’s the reason why a lot of times coaches will tell you to go down. They see the clock running out. They want to make sure you’re okay too, but more so for the time management with the game.”
Carolina lost despite a solid day from Newton, who finished 24-of-40 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers, however, didn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter and settled for four field goals. Graham Gano went 4-for-5 on the day – even drilling a 58-yarder before the half – but he missed a chip shot from 25. Carolina also had some untimely drops, including a would-be touchdown by Kaelin Clay.
“Those things can’t happen when you’re playing a team that is catching everything, making plays and playing their A-game,” Garcia said. “Drew Brees played phenomenal. I thought the defense as far as the run game did a tremendous job. Obviously Drew Brees is the reason the Saints are moving on. They have a guy with an offense and guys that went out there and made plays in big moments. The Panthers didn’t. The Saints made more plays than the Panthers did.”
Brees finished 23-of-33 for 376 yards and two touchdowns to overcome a non-existent rushing attack: 41 yards on 22 carries (1.9 yards per carry).
The Saints will face the Vikings in Minnesota this Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET, with the winner to advance to the NFC Championship.