First game of the season always reminds you of one thing: there is a massive difference between the speed and power of NFL football and every other kind of football. College has nothing on the NFL. And the NFL preseason and regular season might as well be two different sports. Dudes were getting lit up every other snap. Well, really, Cam Newton was getting lit up every other snap.

Say what you will about how he showed up in the Super Bowl and that postgame presser, neither was great, but he’s arguably the toughest cat in the league. He took an absolute beating last night. Headshot after headshot from one of the fastest and most physical defenses in years, and kept getting back up. Like a guy who was in one car accident after another, and just kept picking himself up and getting back into the car.

I’m not sure who was the bigger threat to Cam: Denver’s D, Carolina’s o-line, or the refs. Aren’t they supposed to be protecting quarterbacks? This guy is the league MVP and he can’t get a call. Because you know Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would be getting those calls. No way Brady or Manning take one dome shot after another without getting flags. Just like there’s almost no chance that they take those hits and don’t at least miss a play or two. Or a week or two. But Cam didn’t.

I’m not sure whether to praise Newton for his toughness or bash the refs for their cluelessness, but it was both. He’s tough as hell and they’re blind as hell. There were at least four clear headshots and only on the last one was there a flag. And even that was offset by an intentional grounding.

Maybe getting rocked in the head had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t get the ball to the line of scrimmage. I mean, is it intentional grounding if you get decapitated mid-throw? The league might want to look into that. Because for all the talk about concussion protocol and protecting the quarterback, there didn’t seem to be much of either last night.

And don’t come in here with that line about, well, he’s a big, physical, mobile quarterback and that will happen. Three of the headshots came in the pocket. He wasn’t running or sliding on any of them. As Greg Olsen said after the game, “We’ve got to treat Cam like a quarterback. I know he’s the biggest guy on the field, but he’s still a quarterback.”

Despite that pounding, Cam still put his team in position to win the game. I’m not even sure he should’ve been on the field for the final few plays after getting smashed by safety Darian Stewart. If there was ever a time for the concussion protocol, it was then, when he was lying on the ground. But you knew there was no way that was happening. No way that Cam was taking him out of the game on that drive and no way that anyone else was either. And that’s a problem. If you aren’t going to protect him from those hits and you aren’t going to look into the potential impact of those hits in the moment, then things aren’t really much safer are they? Those hits should have been flagged. And if the league really is about making the game safer and go on and on about the concussion protocol that it has in place, then go ahead and use it.

Then again, they don’t want to take the NFL MVP off the field during the final drive and there’s no way he’s taking himself out of the game either.

Cam’s press conference was delayed because he was “getting treatment.” Right, or they were checking to see if he had a concussion, something they seemingly didn’t do during the game. In fact, he seemed to get more medical attention before he met with the media than he did before he took the next snap. And when he finally did arrive, he went high road: “It’s not my job to question the officials. I really like this officiating crew, so it wasn’t something I know they did intentionally. But it’s not fun getting hit in the head.”

No, no it is not. And if Graham Gano makes that kick, it’s one of the most impressive wins of Cam’s career. I’m just not sure he’ll remember it.


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