The NFL is considering a knee injury that may have contributed to quarterback Cam Newton's fall to the ground as the league investigates whether the Carolina Panthers properly followed concussion protocol last weekend, ESPN reported on Saturday.
Newton was also poked in the eye during the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC wild-card game. The NFL reportedly learned of his knee injury while interviewing Panthers officials over the phone this week.
The 2015 NFL MVP slowly got to his feet after a hard hit to the head from Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata. Newton made his way toward the sideline but then dropped to a knee before getting off the field.
Newton was taken to the team's blue medical tent but not the locker room, which is a violation of the new NFL rules.
The new league policy that went into effect in late December mandates that players head to the locker room for more extensive testing when exhibiting symptoms related to a concussed state.
The NFL's December statement reads that it requires "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)."
If the NFL determines that protocol was violated, the Panthers could face a penalty.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera told reporters after Sunday's game that Newton was poked in the eye.
"He actually got poked in the eye," Rivera said. "They took him in there as a precautionary (measure) just to make sure. But when he was sitting on the ground, they were trying to wipe whatever when he got popped. So that's what that was."
Newton offered the same injury diagnosis as his coach at the time.
"I know it was precautionary things for a concussion," Newton said, "but it wasn't a hit to the head, it was my eye. My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player's stomach, I believe. I thought somebody stuck their finger in my eye, but I've got my visor, so that couldn't happen."
Newton returned for the next offensive series after missing just one play and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to rookie Christian McCaffery.
Newton underwent an MRI for the knee injury Monday, which came back negative.