Cam Newton clears concussion protocol in loss

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The Carolina Panthers were driving downfield on its final offensive series of Sunday's wild-card loss to the Saints, and was down five points at the New Orleans 21 with 41 seconds to play.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018.

Afterward, many on the Vikings alleged Saints players were trying to take quarterback Brett Favre out of the game.

BC-FBN-Panthers-Saints, 4th Ld-Writethru, 1020 Brees, defensive stand, help Saints survive Panthers, 31-26AP Photo LAGH115, LAGH158, LAGH165, LAGH167, LAGH159, SPANLAGH134, LAGH160, LAGH156, LAGH151, LAGH150, LAGH147, LAGH143, LAGH130, LAGH141, LAGH146Eds: Saints 31, Panthers 26. And that's precisely what Brees did, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns.

"I'm sure it's going to be insane", Brees said. "It creates an atmosphere that makes you think, 'No matter what, we're going to find a way to win this game'". However, Panthers lineman Trai Turner was also flagged for holding, offsetting that penalty. That pulled the Panthers to within 24-19. Six-foot-4, 300-pound tackle David Onyemata crushed Newton on a sack, and the hit drove a shard of Newton's protective visor toward his eye. Newton got up and tried to reach the Panthers' sideline but fell to his knees on the way there.

Backup Derek Anderson came into the game to replace Newton, the Panthers down by the score of 24-19 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Saints had a pair of Pro Bowlers in the backfield with running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Newton returned to the game and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to running back Christian McCaffrey. But he couldn't get his team into the end zone often enough, including on a final game-winning drive opportunity that was undone by a controversial intentional-grounding call.

"I know it was a precautionary concussion protocol thing that happened", Newton said. "It'd be nice to have an explanation". While the draft order among non-playoff teams is determined by record and strength of schedule, for playoff teams, it is determined by how deep they venture during the postseason.

Newton, however, was only taken into the team's medical tent rather than the locker room.

It was testament to a defence that was aided all day by the Who Dats. Saints LG Andrus Peat was carted off the field in the first quarter with a lower left leg injury. But they gave a spirited, cohesive effort. It was the longest play for the Saints this season and the longest allowed by the Panthers. They have nobody but themselves to blame for the loss. Vonn Bell sacked Newton and New Orleans is now two wins away from making a return trip to the Super Bowl. "We knew what we had to do and it was on the receivers".

The crowd was noisy, and they got a post game shout out from Brees.