CHARLOTTE – At first, head coach Ron Rivera figured it was a hoax. Then, he realized it was very, very real.
Franchise quarterback Cam Newton had been in a violent two-car accident.
"We were just finishing game planning, and I was settling in to have lunch. Somebody said something, and my first thought was the hoax thing that had come up before," Rivera said.
"(Director of security) Lance Emory told me he was heading out to the site, so right away I knew something was up."
Everyone saw pictures from the crash circulating online. It was horrific. And everyone just wanted to know Newton was going to be OK.
"I just instantly prayed. I saw (pictures of) the truck," left tackle Byron Bell said. "I prayed that everything was fine."
Eventually, Rivera was able to share good news with his players. Newton was brought to the hospital in fair condition. Newton had suffered two transverse process fractures in his back, but there were no other internal injuries.
"We're very fortunate. He's very fortunate," Rivera said. "When you see the pictures there is a sense of relief. Thank goodness this was not more serious."
Newton was released from the hospital Wednesday and Rivera, who visited Netwon at the hospital on the day of the accident, updated the team.
"I addressed the team briefly, but (head athletic trainer) Ryan Vermillion came in and gave the guys the rest of the direction as far as the extent and the explanation," Rivera said.
After receiving word about the accident, Vermillion and Panthers' team physicians – Dr. Robert Heyer and Dr. Pat Connor – rushed to meet Newton at the emergency room.
"We were with him the whole time," Vermillion said. "He was a little shaken up. He was disappointed, he was upset, he was bummed – all those adjectives.
"Injury-wise, he was OK."
Newton's injury was similar to the one Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered earlier this season. Romo missed one game.
The major difference of course, is that Newton's injury occurred in a significant car accident, while Romo's took place on the field.
Newton and Romo's fractures also occurred in different parts of the lumbar vertebrae. But the treatment for both cases is the same – it's a matter of time.
"One hundred percent," Vermillion said. "There is nothing else we can do. It's pain management. We'll do treatments to help with pain. And it's just time."
Rivera and Vermillion know Newton will want to be back in action as soon as possible.
"That's who he is," Rivera said. "He's a very tough-minded, tough-willed young man. He wants to get back out there and help the football team."
In this season alone, Newton has overcome offseason ankle surgery and cracked ribs, which occurred in the preseason.
He played arguably his best game of the season last week during Carolina's 41-10 victory over New Orleans. Now, he's faced with this.
"It's very unfortunate and it's one of the things that got him down," Rivera said. "For this to happen, I know he is really disappointed. He feels like he is letting us all down. He needs to get healthy; that's what we are really concerned about."
"This is something we'll get stronger from."
Newton will get stronger from this. That's also who he is.
"He has that way of flashing that smile that lets you know everything is OK," Rivera said. "When he did flash that smile, I knew he was going to be OK."