By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- As if the NFL was going to go one night without a little controversy.
There's always something with primetime NFL games. There are too many people watching, tweeting, and following along for the whole thing to take place without anything catching eyes and causing a stink. But the league - and, well, the Denver Broncos - made it easy for viewers to pick up on something shady Thursday night, as Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took several helmet-to-helmet hits from Broncos defenders - some of which appeared to be of the flagrant variety.
CBS Boston's Michael Hurley tweeted this clear shot of Von Miller smashing helmets with Newton like a couple of crash test dummies, which somehow went without a penalty flag.
In fact, the only hit on Newton that was flagged came on a play where Newton also committed intentional grounding, which caused offsetting penalties. The hit was particularly vicious, as Broncos safety Darian Stewart basically torpedoed his helmet directly into Newton's head after the quarterback had made a throw on the run and was already getting wrapped up at the ankles.
This hit by Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall also looks about as blatant as can be, as you can see him standing still and lining Newton up. He had plenty of time to align himself for a nice, hard, legal shoulder hit, but still used his helmet as a battering ram against Newton's chin.
Hell, let's just make this simple and show all the hits in a single GIF. (H/T to Reddit)
Newton avoided making disparaging remarks toward the officials over the lack of calls.
"It's not my place to question the officials," Newton said after the game. "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."
And here I was a month ago, saying you can't even touch the quarterback anymore. Apparently, you can still mash their brains like a potato and get away with it.
As bad as the officials were in letting the Broncos get away with so much headhunting, it's even worse that Newton was never entered into the concussion protocol. For a league that always harps on player safety and uses it as a crutch whenever it fits their agenda, they sure did a damn good job contradicting themselves Thursday night by leaving Newton in that game without a test.
The league released a statement about the game Friday morning that read as such (via Ian Rapoport on Twitter):
"There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth. During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administering penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters 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."
Except there kind of was ...
And now, the NFL waits - and hopes that there's no concussion that they need to cover up. Thursday night was just another indication that the league isn't as serious about player safety as it purports to be, or doesn't want to take it as seriously as it should. There was nothing borderline or ambiguous about those hits Newton took ... the Broncos turned his brain into porridge, and they practically admitted to targeting him as such.
Somehow making the whole thing even worse is that Broncos safety T.J. Ward basically admitted that the Broncos targeted Newton's head.
"We wanted to make sure it got to him, so every time he ran, we wanted to put a helmet or shoulder pad on him, and if he's not going to slide, then we're really going to put something on you," he said.
So you specifically wanted to use your helmet as a tool of aggression (read: a weapon) against the opposing quarterback when you specifically are not allowed to do that. You did it, almost completely got away with it, and the quarterback was not checked for a head injury. Just a mess all-around for the NFL, and an unfortunate takeaway from an otherwise entertaining season opener.
The league needs to pick a side with "player safety." Either take it seriously or don't. Because last night was an indication that Goodell's constant bloviating crusade for player safety is just an empty vessel, a farce. It may even be OK for the league to just admit it doesn't regard player safety. That would be easier than picking apart their hypocrisy.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.
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