ATLANTA - Safety Damontae Kazee didn't make it through the first half in his first start of the season for the Atlanta Falcons.
The second-year player from San Diego State, starting at safety in place of injured Keanu Neal, was ejected from the game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. With 12:14 left, Newton scrambled and was sliding to the ground when Kazee flew in and jarred Newton's helmet with his own.
"On the sideline they said he began the slide, went down and it was a helmet-to-helmet hit that they thought he could have avoided," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "I actually did not see the play and have not seen it on the replay yet. It sounded like everybody supported the Call."
The late hit drew a flag and nearly started a donnybrook. Carolina's Torrey Smith came in a took a swing at Kazee, which drew a personal foul flag but not an ejection. The situation may have gotten worse, but Atlanta's Takk McKinley pushed Smith away and officials got things quiet in a hurry.
"We've got work to do in that area," Quinn said. "We teach it and when we don't nail it, we're going to keep working on it. Kazee is one that is working on it and he was definitely bummed that he wasn't out there for the remainder of the game and felt terrible about it. We've got work to do, but for him, his effort is so on point. I know we can get the technique part right."
Newton left the game to be examined and could be seen screaming. He was cleared and returned while officials were reviewing the play and determining what to do with Kazee. Newton was even more animated than usual when he returned and led the Panthers to a touchdown on that drive.
"It did kind of get us fired up," Carolina receiver Jarius Wright said. "You never like to see anybody come at your guys in that way. If you ask me, it was a malicious hit intended to hurt him. It wasn't right. It's not right to be an NFL player - you know he's a quarterback, you know he's going to slide - to dive at a guy like that."
With Kazee getting tossed, Atlanta had to lean more heavily on Brian Poole and Jordan Richards, who was acquired from New England late in training camp.