Medical personnel cleared Newton to return in the fourth quarter. After the game, Newton said he was hit in the eye and that the concussion test was precautionary, per Tiffany Blackmon of the NFL Network.
Newton exited the game briefly after a big hit from Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. Both ESPN's Josina Anderson and Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith alluded to the fact the three-time Pro Bowler returned despite being potentially concussed:
Josina Anderson @JosinaAnderson
#Panthers need to make a decision. Follow the concussion protocol or just accept the penalty later...I know no one wants to hear that, but, this moment and chance is fleeting.2018-1-8 00:20:57
Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith
Nine days ago the NFL announced 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)" Cam Newton was stumbling but wasn't sent to the locker room2018-1-8 00:27:05
Newton played in 15 games in 2016 but dealt with physical setbacks and underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason.
He has 3,302 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air this year after posting 3,509 passing yards, 359 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns last season. When healthy, he is one of the most proven quarterbacks in the league, winning the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and the 2015 league MVP awards.
Newton led the Panthers to the Super Bowl two seasons ago and is one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the league who can hurt opposing defenses with his legs and strong arm.
Carolina turned to Derek Anderson while Newton was out briefly. Anderson is a veteran who entered the 2017 campaign with 73 career games for the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals and Panthers. He appeared in five contests for Carolina last year and tallied 453 passing yards and two touchdowns to five interceptions.
The Panthers' comeback fell short on Sunday, losing to the Saints 31-26.