The Carolina Panthers are facing scrutiny from the NFL after quickly clearing quarterback Cam Newton to play Sunday, less than two weeks after a league mandate requiring more extensive concussion testing for players demonstrating obvious symptoms.
NFL officials have already been in contact with the Panthers' medical staff as to why Newton was not taken to the locker room when he was being evaluated for a concussion. They will not comment further until those conversations are completed.
Newton was slow to get up after New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata hit him with 8 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the Panthers' 31-26 loss. He was replaced by backup Derek Anderson, and, as he moved toward the sideline, Newton went to the ground and appeared to be pointing toward his right eye.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game that Newton had been poked in the eye. But in revisions to its concussion policy announced Dec. 29, the NFL said it would "require a locker room concussion evaluation for all players demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand)."
Those symptoms appeared to match Newton's actions. But the Panthers never took Newton to the locker room. Instead, they announced he was tested for a concussion on the blue sideline tent and cleared. He returned to the game for the Panthers' next series and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to tailback Christian McCaffrey on his third play back.
Newton also said the injury was to his eye.
"I know it was precautionary things for a concussion," Newton said, "but it wasn't a hit to the head it was my eye. My helmet had came down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player's stomach I believe. I thought somebody stuck their finger in my eye, but I've got my visor, so that couldn't happen.''
Even if the Panthers were primarily concerned about Newton's eye, their decision to eschew a locker room trip -- at a time when they were trying to erase a deficit and advance in the postseason -- will merit a closer look by league and union officials.
Since the start of the season, the NFL/NFLPA have conducted at least two investigations into potential violations of their concussion protocol. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for failing to test quarterback Russell Wilson after he was sent off the field in Week 10. More recently, the league found no violations but announced its Dec. 29 revisions in response to the Houston Texans' decision to clear quarterback Tom Savage after he presented obvious concussion symptoms on the field, including the fencing posture.
ESPN's David Newton contributed to this report.