The Panthers confirmed Newton had been evaluated for and eventually cleared of a potential concussion after Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata hit him immediately following a Tyeler Davison sack late in the fourth quarter. Newton told reporters after the game he was dealing with an eye injury rather than something to do with his head.
"I know it was a precautionary concussion protocol thing that happened," he said, per NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon. "But it wasn't my head it was my eye."
Derek Anderson replaced Newton on the ensuing third-down play, and Newton returned on Carolina's subsequent possession.
Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith was among those critical of how Carolina handled Newton on the sideline:
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 room
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport shared a statement from the league about the situation: "We are in contact now with the Panthers' medical staff and we will not comment further until those conversations are completed."
Sunday's defeat represents the end of an era for the franchise. After the revelation of workplace misconduct allegations against him, team owner Jerry Richardson announced in December he planned to sell the Panthers once the team's season was over. With the team knocked out of the playoffs, the Panthers will officially be up for sale in the coming days.
"I have a really good relationship with Mr. Richardson," Newton said of the owner, per Kelsey Riggs of WCNC in Charlotte, North Carolina. "With our season cut short now it's hard."
Newton's frustration appeared to extend to some of his teammates, who he said looked content merely to have reached the postseason, according to the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person:
Newton's comments will provide more ammunition to those who argue the Panthers need to be aggressive in upgrading the squad this offseason. In particular, Carolina will need to strengthen its group of wide receivers.
Even before the Kelvin Benjamin trade, the Panthers weren't blessed with much depth at receiver, and trading Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills depleted the ranks even further. The Panthers' lack of resources essentially forced Newton to do even more in 2017, leading him to register a career-high 139 carries.
Increasing Christian McCaffrey's role in the offense would help alleviate the burden on Newton, but Sunday showed the Panthers can't be a one-man show and expect to make a deep playoff run.