Pereira: Failure to follow protocol in opener "a massive screwup"

Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox, said the NFL erred when it did not follow its concussion protocol and have Cam Newton removed in the Panthers' season opener -- calling it "a massive screwup."

Carolina Panthers play against the Arizona Cardinals during the Wild Card playoff round at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, January 3, 2015, in Charlotte, NC.
Carolina Panthers play against the Arizona Cardinals during the Wild Card playoff round at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, January 3, 2015, in Charlotte, NC.

(Mike Pereira photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

Talk of Fame Network

The NFL last week launched a $100-million concussion initiative, further proof that it is serious about increasing player safety. Or so it says. But if that’s the case, why didn’t anyone pull Cam Newton off the field late in the Carolina Panthers' season-opening loss to Denver?

That is a question posed by the former head of NFL officiating, Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst and author of the book, After Further Review: Inside the Infamous, Controversial and Unforgettable Calls that Changed the NFL.

"I think that was really a black mark for the league starting out on their first day ... on Thursday," he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "To me, the biggest thing was that they went against their expressed message, and that was that they were going to protect the player who appeared to be or had a chance of being concussed.

"And the hit on Cam Newton … you know, there are 36 seconds to go in the game … but I firmly believe that at any other time, and that time included, they'd have marched him to the sideline and taken him out for a play. And I think that has the league a bit embarrassed."

The NFL defended the procedure, saying that medical personnel on the scene saw "no evidence of a concussion that would require further evaluation." But in last week's Thursday-night game, Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor was removed after he was belted by two New York Jets' defenders. As it turns out, it was referee Ed Hochuli who stepped in to order Taylor to the sideline – a move that, seemingly, was in direct response to the Newton incident.

"Every piece of video they (the NFL) sent out," Pereira said of the NFL office, "they talk about those hits and how the referees are going to … if they see any possible sign, if the player's on the ground for any length of time or stumbles or gives facial expressions, anything … they re to take him out of the game. And if they don’t, then their certified athletic trainer who's upstairs has the ability to buzz down to the referee and say get him off the field.

"Well, Cam Newton clearly had that possibility of being concussed, based on the severity of the hit and the fact that he was on the ground, turned over on his hands and knees, (with tight end) Greg Olsen standing over him. So the question comes in the minds of everybody, including me: Because there are 36 seconds left, and Carolina's behind, are you going to leave him in the game? So does the time trump the player's safety? And I really don’t think it does."

It doesn’t, of course. So, then, why did it happen? The NFL was sensitive to mistakes made last year in the wake of the Case Keenum incident, where the Rams' quarterback was concussed, yet left on the field. Never again, the NFL promised, and it took action to minimize the chances of a repeat performance.

Yet, in the 2016 league opener, it seemingly failed to follow the protocol it laid out to prevent something like that from recurring.

"I just thin it was a massive screwup," said Pereira. "And the league can say the independent doctors on the sideline had time to … during the officiating and offsetting fouls … to order down the video, look at the video and not see signs of him being possibly concussed. (But) I don’t buy it. I think it was poorly handled, and I think internally there are going to be some really unhappy conversations that go on."