I was one of the millions that tuned in for Thursday night's matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. I was "ready for some football." After all, I am a bona fide Rams/Seahawks/Raiders/49ers fan, and I also "Rise Up" for the Atlanta Falcons. I know - make a decision you say, but that's a different issue and a future article.
Here's the thing - I was at Super Bowl 50 so I knew this game had the makings of a good old-fashioned slug fest. What remains true about this matchup is at the end of the day the defensive play of the Broncos managed to rule the day. In case you thought Dancing with the Stars had softened Von Miller, it did not. Miller, DeMarcus Ware and company are as ferocious as ever.
To say that Cam Newton, the NFL's MVP was pounded throughout the game is the proverbial understatement. In fact, when discussing the game with my guy, we tried to define what Cam's MVP status meant to the Broncos defensive unit. If you asked Miller and company, I would wager that they would say his MVP status meant absolutely n-o-t-h-i-n-g.
To Cam's credit, he didn't whine or complain and he silenced his critics, proving that he could take a "lickin' and keep on ticking." Cam Newton stayed in the game despite frequent helmet-to-helmet contact. And the fact that NFL referees allowed this to happen begs this question, what caused the referees to fail to blow the whistle for Cam?
Yes, they finally made a call at the end of the game but what of those prior bruising, potentially lethal helmet-to-helmet hits that took place earlier in the game. Now I may not be a referee but I am an expert in the eyeball test. And my eyeballs told me that there's something fishy going on...
Now I love a good conspiracy theory and there are no better conspiracists than sports fans. But how do you explain what is really inexplicable: NFL referees missing at a minimum four helmet-to-helmet calls against Cam Newton. So here are two theories that have been raised many times before but bear revisiting. Allow me to enumerate:
Theory 1: The sheer size of Newton (6'5", 244 pounds) caused referees to see those hits as the normal course of play between men of equal size who are just battling it out on the gridiron. It's no secret that Panther players and fans believe that Cam receives unequal treatment from NFL officials. Remember that infamous statement from Cam when he said NFL referee Ed Hochuli told him "he wasn't old enough to get a personal foul called," after he was hit out of bounds when the Panthers played the New Orleans Saints last season. Cam's response - "Jesus! I didn't think you had to have seniority to get a personal foul or anything like that."
And there are other quarterbacks of the larger body type that do not appear to get the same protection from the referees that say a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning might get. It is well documented that Big Ben Roethlisberger fails to get his fair share of calls reserved for elite quarterbacks. It appears that when it comes to being a quarterback in the National Football League, size does matter. Remember how often the late coach Dennis Green complained about the hits on his quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was 6'4", 260 pounds?
And that brings me to Theory 2: Is Cam Newton viewed in the same rarified air as Brady, Rodgers, and Manning? Most would say no despite Newton's success thus far as a professional player. It was Newton who threw over 400 yards in his first game (setting a game record), and by his third season, he was a Pro Bowler, leading the Panthers to an NFC South title. In 2015, he would do it again, leading his team to Super Bowl 50, and being named the 2015 MVP. For a QB that has only been in the league for a relative short time, his performance belongs in the crème de la crème category. As Panthers coach Ron Rivera said recently, it's time for Cam to receive some of that "veteran favoritism."
And what are Newton's thoughts about the Broncos defense of him and the lack of calls made by the referees? Well, he said, "It's not my job to question the officials." Okay, we get that Cam and don't worry because there's a whole lot of folks doing the questioning for you. He went on to say, "It's not fun getting hit in the head" -- translation: hey, refs, can't you see I'm getting knocked in the head, do something! NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth in discussing the Broncos' repeated hits on Newton said it best, "Cam Newton is now going, I thought we protected the quarterbacks in this league? Not a huge problem with a defense being aggressive but if that's Tom Brady, there's a flag coming."
So what's the moral of this story? In the words of the adroit recording artist Too Short; NFL referees - blow the whistle, c'mon blow it, blow the whistle... for Cam.