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 »This Week in History
Carolina Panthers
INSIDE SLANT

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  NFL clears Panthers in Newton concussion evaluation

The NFL announced that the Carolina Panthers did not violate the league's concussion protocol with their handling of quarterback Cam Newton during an NFC wild-card game against the New Orleans Saints.

Despite criticism for the Panthers' decision to evaluate Newton on the sideline as opposed to the locker room, the league said on Wednesday that the team handled the situation appropriately.

"Mr. Newton was properly evaluated for a concussion in the sideline medical tent and did not sustain a concussion," the NFL said as part of a lengthy statement.

The NFL Players Association also released a statement on Wednesday.

"In this case, our health and safety team immediately initiated our standard investigation process minutes after the hit Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took during the game against the New Orleans Saints," the NFLPA statement read. "Our process for all cases includes interviews with the coaching staff, club medical staff, players, neutral doctors staffing the game and review of video evidence and written game reports. This case presented the issue of strict interpretation of the protocol language and the totality of the circumstances known to the medical staff at the time.

"Our review of all of the facts do not support a claim of inappropriate medical care. Mr. Newton was immediately evaluated for a concussion and cleared by the team physician and unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant."

The play in question came during the fourth quarter of Carolina's 31-26 loss to New Orleans on Jan. 7.

Newton slowly got to his feet after a hard hit to the head from Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. The 2015 NFL MVP made his way toward the sideline, but then dropped to a knee before getting off the field.

Newton, 28, was taken to the sideline medical tent for evaluation for a concussion and cleared after missing only one play.

The NFL determined that Newton sustained an injury to his right eye as head coach Ron Rivera claimed after the contest.

"He actually got poked in the eye," Rivera said at the time. "They took him in there as a precautionary (measure) just to make sure. But when he was sitting on the ground, they were trying to wipe whatever when he got popped. So that's what that was."

The league also said that Newton "did not display 'gross motor instability,' which would have necessitated a locker room evaluation." Also, the NFL said that the Panthers medical team "acted with an abundance of caution."

The NFL noted that Newton sustained a knee injury earlier in the game, which contributed to him falling to the ground while walking to the sideline.

As a result of the review, the Panthers won't face any discipline from the league. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for improper use of the concussion protocol on quarterback Russell Wilson in November.

The Panthers talked about how fulfilling and close the team became as it overcame considerable questions for a bounce-back season in 2017.

The 11-5 regular-season record was good enough for a share of the NFC South title. Elimination from the playoffs came in the first postseason game when the New Orleans Saints topped the Panthers for the third time this season.

But change is in the air for the Panthers, perhaps beginning with the sale of the team. Jerry Richardson, the original owner of the franchise, says he will sell the team during the offseason. This comes amid December allegations of workplace misconduct lodged against Richardson.

Prior to the playoffs, head coach Ron Rivera was granted a contract extension that takes him through the 2020 season. He has been with the team for seven seasons. That is one form of stability, though two days after the playoff ouster, the team announced the dismissals of offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey.

There is still the matter of Marty Hurney, who returned to the organization as interim general manager just days before the start of training camp. Hurney has said he wants to stay on the job.

On the field, quarterback Cam Newton will look for a healthy offseason and certainly be in need of a replenished receiving corps. He was working back from spring shoulder surgery throughout training camp and into the early portion of the season. Having him in the groove from the get-go will be beneficial looking ahead to 2018.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Panthers had the defense to do the job and that enabled them to allow their offense to work up to speed across the first half of the season. The offseason addition of defensive end Julius Peppers, who began his career with the organization, proved to be an ideal fit. Linebacker Luke Kuechly showed his All-Pro form again and there was progress at times from second-year cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Looks like the Panthers made a wise decision on keeping kicker Graham Gano, who produced his best season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Panthers were too often bogged down in the ground game and that impacted the offense as a whole. Take away a few games when they got rolling on the ground and there were some miniscule numbers that just didn't add up to what's needed with the ball-control offense that the Panthers like. Injuries were costly at the receiver position, particularly after the somewhat jarring midseason trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills. And of, course, the Panthers couldn't figure out how to defeat the New Orleans Saints, so that meant they started the playoffs on the road - in New Orleans. Half of the team's six losses came to the Saints.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Left tackle Matt Kalil. He was supposed to be the final piece to the puzzle along the offensive front, but he ended up having trouble putting it all together. Perhaps part of it could be attributed to the absence of his brother, center Ryan Kalil, for chunks of the season because of an injury, so there was disruption in general along the offensive front. But Matt Kalil didn't seem to find a comfort level for a sustained period of time after arriving as a free agent from the Minnesota Vikings. He had a slow-moving training camp because of ailments and then didn't seem to be in a good groove even though he was a starter for every game.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Tight end Ed Dickson came through in huge ways after the broken foot suffered by Greg Olsen, who missed about two months of the season. Dickson provided some huge production at times. By the time Olsen returned, the Panthers were still trying to find ways to keep Dickson involved, even putting him in a fullback's role. He was in his eighth NFL season and his fourth with the Panthers. Dickson's 2017 production in many ways (including in receiving yards) exceeded the three previous years combined.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks orchestrated the team's strongest unit in his first season in that role after serving as the team's secondary coach. He also has come in line for head-coaching positions around the NFL and had lined up interviews just days after the season ended. So while the Panthers were usually praising his work, they also ought to be thinking about how they might fill his position should he have the opportunity to move on.


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