CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera wants Cam Newton to receive the same protection on helmet-to-helmet hits as other quarterbacks get in the NFL.

Rivera said because of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton’s size and the Panthers’ style of play, Newton often doesn’t draw the flags on hard hits that smaller QBs do.

Newton was on the receiving end of four helmet-to-helmet hits in Thursday night’s physical 21-20 loss to Denver, but the Broncos were only penalized once.

“I think there is a little bit of prejudice to that,” Rivera said of the lack of penalties. “It’s kind of like Shaquille O’Neal. He’s a big physical basketball player and he goes to set a pick and they fall down and they call a foul on him. Then he goes to shoot a layup and gets hacked and hammered and they don’t call it.”

Rivera even went as far as to say the league’s reigning MVP should receive some preferential treatment.

The coach would like to see Newton, now in his sixth season, get some “veteran favoritism” from the league’s officials.

Newton was tested four times for a concussion — after the game in the locker room, on the bus, on the flight home and Friday morning at the stadium — and all proved to be negative. He was never tested during the game.

Newton is expected to practice when the Panthers return to the field on Wednesday, the coach said.

Rivera said he will send video of some of the hits to the league.

“Some of them you would like to see them throw the flags,” Rivera said without identifying which hits.

The NFL doesn’t disagree with Rivera. A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that league officials say linebacker Brandon Marshall should have been flagged for a second half hit on Newton.

The person said Dean Blandino, the league’s senior vice president of officiating, and his staff reviewed the play and determined on Friday that Marshall should’ve been flagged for delivering a hit to Newton’s head after the quarterback had released the football. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the NFL did not publicly comment on the details of its review.

The NFL won’t hand out any potential fines until next week after they review all Week 1 games.

There were a couple of helmet-to-helmet hits on Newton by last year’s Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and defensive end Jared Crick. Miller’s facemask-to-facemask hit occurred while Newton was being sacked by DeMarcus Ware.

The biggest hit on Newton, however, was delivered by safety Darian Stewart on Carolina’s final possession, leaving the QB motionless on the ground for several seconds. Newton stayed in and led the Panthers into field goal range, although Graham Gano missed a 50-yard attempt that would have given Carolina the lead.

Stewart said after the game he felt like he led with his shoulder, not his head.

The NFL released a statement Friday saying medical officials determined Newton didn’t need to leave the game due to injury. It said there was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth.

The release also stated that during stoppage in action the play was reviewed and medical officials determined “there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game.”

Rivera didn’t see a need to sit Newton after the hit.

“I’m not going to question the doctors, OK? There is a protocol,” Rivera said.

The NFLPA said it is reviewing whether Newton should have been tested after the hit.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said he didn’t think there was that much contact with Newton’s head during the game.

“I saw two plays where he left the pocket where there were big collisions,” Kubiak said. “There were a lot of big collisions in that game. I think we were playing hard. They were playing hard. They knocked the heck out of us, too, you know.”

Kubiak also doesn’t feel his players were being dirty.

Rivera knows officials have a difficult job to do, especially when it comes to a player like Newton who runs a lot.

“I think his style of play is different as far as quarterbacks are concerned,” Rivera said. “… It’s so hard to tell whether he is running or going to throw. So that makes it tough.”

Kubiak agreed.

“He’s the top player in football and they’re designed runs for him,” Kubiak said. “You’d better tackle him like a back, you’d better treat him that way or you’re going to have a long night as a defensive football team.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.