CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Some believe that by the time his career is over, Cam Newton will have changed the way quarterback is played. We may not have to wait that long to see him affect how the position is officiated.
A day after Newton took at least four helmet-to-helmet hits in the Panthers' season-opening loss at Denver, Carolina coach Ron Rivera was peppered with questions about the reigning NFL MVP. According to Rivera, Newton passed "several exams" postgame that if he failed, would have put in him the league's concussion protocol.
As far as why Newton remained on the field even when he was slow to get up after taking a vicious shot by safety Darian Stewart:
"If anything happens in the game that looks questionable, our doctor and the independent come together and they go and look at it immediately on instant replay. In this case, that happened," Rivera said. "Based on what they saw on instant replay, and then coming back and looking at him on the field, they determined -- and the independent determined it -- that he was OK to continue.
"And remember, there's people up in the box looking down and there's the head referee. None of them felt that he was under duress at that time and they allowed him to continue."
While Newton held his tongue afterward when pressed about officials who only flagged Stewart's hit, Rivera on Friday safely broached the touchy topic.
"Some of (the hits), obviously, you'd like to see them throw the flags," he said. "Some of them were hits that most certainly should have drawn flags. But again, that's up to the referees."
And whenever you factor in human judgment, sometimes things aren't always equal.
"There's a little bit of prejudice to that. It's kind of like what happened to Shaquille O'Neal. Here's a big, physical basketball player and he goes to set a pick, a guy falls down and they call a foul on him. He goes to shoot a little layup and gets hacked and hammered and they don't call it," Rivera said.
"(Newton's) an imposing figure, and sometimes those big hits don't look as bad on a big guy."
But it's not like Newton's new to the league. So with the quarterback entering his sixth season, it's understandable why Rivera admitted: "I'd love for him to start getting some of that veteran favoritism."
Because potential headhunting occurred on such a big stage, Rivera hopes it could change how officials treat Newton. But if the league truly wants to move toward a safer game, a more drastic change may have to be considered.
"I think the biggest thing is if there is an opportunity to go back and review things," Rivera suggested. "As far as big hits on quarterbacks or hits to the helmet, I think that would be important, and I think eventually it is going to come that. If there is a questionable call and you have to go to replay just to make sure.
"This is about player safety at the end of the day, so we have to find a better solution to keep these things down to a minimum."
NOTES: The Panthers are now 1-5 all-time against the Broncos, with a 0-3 record in Denver. Carolina's only win in the series came in 2008. ... In his first game since a torn ACL cost him all of 2015, WR Kelvin Benjamin led the Panthers with 91 yards receiving. He caught six of his 12 targets, including a 14-yard touchdown. ... K Graham Gano booted a 50-yard field goal through the uprights in the final seconds, but that came after the Broncos had called timeout. Moments later, Gano's second attempt at a game-winner sailed wide left. "I just missed it," he said. "The timeout didn't affect me, it never does." ... QB Cam Newton ran in for a 2-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Newton's 44th rushing score of his career broke a tie between him and Steve Young for most by a QB in NFL history. ... TE Greg Olsen caught seven passes, raising his career total to 549. That puts him ahead of former Panther Jeremy Shockey (547) for seventh all-time for receptions by a tight end. ... P Andy Lee, who came over in a trade from Cleveland late last month, booted a Panthers' record 76-yard punt in the third quarter. The previous mark was Todd Sauerbrun's 73-yarder at Miami (11/4/01).