CHARLOTTE, N.C.—If anyone in the NFL has a standing appointment with commissioner Roger Goodell, it should probably be the reigning NFL MVP.
On Sunday, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton sounded like he was ready to get to 345 Park Avenue this week.
After Carolina’s 30-20 win against Arizona, Newton delivered his most passionate case for not getting the calls he thinks he deserves. It was the argument he could have delivered in a lot of games in his career—most recently in the season opener in Denver—but enough was enough Sunday.
“It’s really taking the fun out of the game for me,” Newton said. “It really is because at times, I don’t even feel safe. And enough is enough. I plan on talking to Commissioner Goodell about this. It’s not fun.”
Asked what was his breaking point—why now?—Newton said: “I coulda torn my ACL. That was the breaking point.”
The play in question came midway through the third quarter from the Arizona 2. Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell went low at Newton, who was standing in the pocket, and his shoulder made contact near Newton’s knee. The quarterback’s right leg bent underneath him as his pass fell incomplete. No flag.
It was also three plays after Newton earned a penalty for a late hit by Rodney Gunter, who rode Newton well after the throw. But in a time where yellow flags are marring the NFL product, it was fitting that not only was that penalty offset by an offensive holding call, but the official didn’t have another yellow flag to throw and had to toss his hat near Newton to signify the foul.
On the Campbell hit, Newton got up after a few seconds on the ground. Carolina’s kicking unit was already on the field, but Newton stayed on to watch the replay on Bank of America Stadium’s video board. He pleaded more with referee Walt Coleman but there would be no flag. On the special teams unit, Campbell even went to Newton running off the flag and appeared to apologize.
Newton was having none of it. He was inconsolable on the sideline. He ignored daps by teammates. One defensive player, no doubt sensing Newton’s anger before he sat down, got up and moved to another bench. Newton donned his Gatorade towel and kept his head in his hands for minutes.
The Panthers didn’t score for the rest of the game and Newton clearly wasn’t himself. He finished the day 14-of-27 for 214 yards, no touchdowns, no turnovers and 43 rushing yards on seven carries. The hits bothered him, but not getting any yardage off of them was the greater psychological factor.
“When I see other guys get calls, they don’t have to be MVPs. They don’t have to be this that and the third of being this type of tier of player,” Newton said. “I look at how they get hit. And for every hit that they get that gets called, I can match it in my career that it didn’t get called.
“I can’t speak for nobody else. I’m speaking for Cam Newton. I’m telling you, you have to question it. It’s taking the fun out for me. At times in games I do not feel protected by the officials.”
Newton is 6-foot-5 and probably closer to 260 pounds than the 245 he’s listed at. Ben Roethlisberger is really the only quarterback that comes close to Newton’s size (though he doesn’t play like Newton) and he also struggles at times to get flags. The resounding opinion is that the league’s rules to protect quarterbacks apply to those who aren’t small forwards playing the position. Clearly the league’s application of these rules is inconsistent.
Newton has received 23 roughing the passer penalties since he entered the league in 2011. Fourteen of those were called in his first two years, which means only nine have been called since 2013. And zero have actually been penalized this year after two were flagged but eventually offset.
During Carolina’s magical run last season, Newton famously said Ed Hochuli told him he wasn’t old enough to get a late hit call. Hochuli, through others, vehemently denied he said that. After winning the highest individual award the league can give, Newton may have bought the kind of star-power credit needed to get borderline calls.
But then the Panthers went to Denver and 30 million people saw Newton become a piñata as the officials and concussion spotters looked on quietly. Newton could have—and probably should have—complained after the game about not getting the calls, but opted to take the high road with Gene Steratore’s crew.
But Newton, like many players today, objects more to shots at his knees than his head. The thought is one can recover from a concussion in a week or two, but an ACL tear finishes your season.
So Newton is over hearing the “oh, we missed that one” or “I didn’t see it” from the officials. Now he’s asking to see the manager.
Mr. Goodell, there’s a Mr. Newton for you on Line 1.