Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton had a lot to say about NFL referees after his Oct. 30 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Throughout the game, Newton took numerous hard hits to the head and the legs while he was in the pocket.
Since being drafted as the first overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft, Newton has had a tremendous impact on the Carolina Panthers and the game of football as a whole. He led the Panthers to a Super Bowl appearance in just his fifth year. Newton is known for his tremendous athleticism, strong arm and flashy touchdown celebrations.
Whether or not people agree with his taunts and celebrations, two things are certain: Newton is an outstanding young quarterback and he is being hit far too often, far too hard.
The hit that sent him over the edge occurred late in the third quarter, when Cardinals’ Calais Campbell tackled Newton in the side of his leg, just below his knee, at full force. Newton fell to the ground, his leg bent in awkward position. According to the NFL’s official rules, hits below a quarterback’s knees are allowed so long as the hit is non-forcible and/or is a swipe with the arm. Campbell’s hit was done with the shoulder, which is forcible, to say the least.
A personal foul should have been called against Campbell on the play, resulting in a 15- yard penalty against the Cardinals. This penalty, called “roughing the passer,” often results in a massive fine against the offender. In the case of Newton, no flag was thrown on the play, no penalty issued and no fine was issued. Luckily no harm was done, but it was a scare.
As he said in the post-game press conference, “I could’ve torn my ACL.” Newton also explained that these hard hits have been taking place his entire NFL career. Most NFL quarterbacks are not taking these kinds of hits, because defenders know they will be penalized for dealing them. So the question is: Why Cam Newton?
It may be, in part, because Newton is colossal, as quarterbacks go. Standing six feet and five inches tall and weighing 245 pounds, he may seem less affected by the hits than he takes than other, smaller quarterbacks. On the other hand, perhaps it has to do with his style of play. Newton does what few quarterbacks do. He runs the ball up the middle despite having the arm strength and accuracy to be a great pocket passer. Perhaps his size and style are the reasons referees are not watching the pocket as closely as they might for quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Newton’s discontent is so strong that he told the media he will be speaking to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about ways to fix this problem. A couple of solutions have been mentioned, including the addition of an eighth referee or changing instant replay rules to include penalty calls. This would allow teams to review plays in which they thought the referees missed a penalty call.
It will be interesting to see whether or not these new regulations will be implemented. As a whole, the NFL does not struggle with a lack of “roughing the passer” penalties. It seems this is a problem that is unique to Cam Newton. Many others support Newton’s claim that he is over-subjected to this mistreatment, including the coaches and managers of the Panthers. Fans of all teams, not just the Panthers, have also entered the debate on social media.
It is clear that something needs to change in the NFL, because soon the cost of referee inaction will not be an unsavory press conference by Cam Newton. It will be a serious injury to an NFL quarterback. It could be anyone, at any time. Newton has shined light on the fact that something needs to change and soon.