NFL Referees Fail Cam Newton, Fans

If the NFL is serious about the safety of players and finding ways to limit concussions, the referees in last night's Denver Broncos/Carolina Panthers game had a funny way of showing it.

Instead of talking about what a great rematch of the Super Bowl these two teams put on, much of the focus was placed on the amount of hits Cam Newton took to the helmet last night.

And rightfully so.

There were at least three occasions during the course of the game in which Newton was on the receiving end of helmet-to-helmet hits. 

These hits were not of the "blink and you miss it" variety of hits. They were in the course of game action, delivered to Newton after a throw or in the midst of being tackled.

The Broncos were flagged for this infraction once.

Once.

For a league that is looking to protect its players, especially quarterbacks, these calls were not simply "mistakes" or "errors" by the referees. And to right it off as such is simply another loosening thread on what might be the start of an unraveling NFL.

Three helmet-to-helmet hits. Minimum. On the reigning MVP of the league, nonetheless.

By the third hit, I felt sick to my stomach for Newton. The look on my face was probably similar to the one Rod Tidwell's kid displayed when Tidwell kept taking hard hits in the Arizona/Dallas game in Jerry Maguire. 

Look, I'm not even a Cam Newton fan. I have nothing against him, but I'm not going to sit here pretending to be a Newton apologist. But what I saw happen last night made me feel something was off about the officiating of the game. Was it to the extent of how Thomas Davis, Sr. saw it? Could be.

I understand calls are going to be missed throughout the extent of the game. It's impossible for the referees to see every infraction that occurs. But these weren't run-of-the-mill instances. 

When other quarterbacks in the league are protecting like a precious resource, it makes one wonder where the flags were. I've seen--and I'm sure other fans have as well--fifteen-yard penalties called when a defender lightly grazes a quarterback helmet after trying to bat down a ball and following through too far. If the referees can see that, they can certainly see a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Along the lines of player's safety, the NFL might want to look into the competition factor of intentional grounding and a personal foul, late-hit penalty being offsetting fouls. Take the difference of yardage, do something, but a hit to the head should not essentially carry the same ramification as an intentional grounding call.

If this game and lack of calls is setting the stage for the season, with all the discussions of concussions, then the NFL is going to be in some trouble. It might not happen all at once, but fans are going to start to turn off the game.  

Four years ago, I wrote of the NFL employing too many safety standards on the field. That was all wiped away with one game. And I still believe that players know what they are getting into when they play football, but all the research, all the studies and all the protocol in the world won't help if players aren't following the rules and the refs aren't enforcing them. For all players.

The game moves fast. The players are bigger and stronger than ever before. What is needed from the league and the referees is consistency across the board. If that doesn't happen, then players will stop taking those risks, hopefully deciding a life well-lived is better than a short life lived with money.

I, for one, enjoy the NFL. I have enjoyed watching football since as far back as I can remember. But if nights like last night continue, nights in which I find myself talking about hits to the head than the game itself, there might be one less fan turning on the television.

And I may not be the first, but I certainly won't be the last.





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