The Panthers’ return to Charlotte Sunday was somber as the defending NFC champions sport a 1-3 record, and it was made worse as defending NFL MVP Cam Newton entered the concussion protocol.
Carolina’s starting quarterback left the game for good after Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones blasted him at the goal line on a two-point run early in the fourth quarter.
Newton scored, barely, but lay face down on the turf for several moments after pulling Carolina within 34-18 with 11:42 left in the game.
Derek Anderson finished up, and passed for 172 yards before Atlanta’s Robert Alford intercepted two of his final four passes.
He doesn’t know yet if he’ll start Oct. 10 against the Bucs, and neither does anybody else yet.
“Business as usual for me every week,” Anderson said after completing 17-of-23 passes and two touchdowns. “I’m not going to be the one who decides that … we’ll see what happens.”
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera wasn’t saying anything, all but dodging queries about Newton and the severity of his injury.
“All I know is (team medical officials) told me they were taking him back for evaluations,” the coach said. “I purposefully didn’t ask so I wouldn’t have to answer questions.”
After throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, Newton took a shotgun snap as the Panthers went for two.
He initially looked like he was going to run up the middle before angling left. There was plenty of green that way, but as he let up, Jones came flying in from the left flank and popped Newton hard.
Newton said after being hit hard on a similar play last year in New Orleans that he would never again let up in that situation. He did Sunday, and paid for it.
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly plays on the other side of the ball than Newton, but has a sense for what may happen.
“I don’t know the severity of it, but if you guys know Cam like we know Cam, he’s going to come back with the attitude … he’s a winner.”