What We Learned: Panthers at Redskins

1. Newton draws a flag this time – kind of: Head coach Ron Rivera will continue with his typical postgame procedure when it comes to looking for answers involving officiating and his quarterback.

It sure felt like business as usual Monday night.

"I'll send it off to the league and ask for an explanation, and (vice president of officiating) Dean Blandino's office will be up front and honest about it," Rivera said. "Again, as we go forward, we'll see what happens."

A flag flew when Cam Newton was contacted in the head by Washington linebacker Trent Murphy as Newton slid near the sideline midway through the fourth quarter, but the flag actually was an unsportsmanlike call on Newton for tossing the ball in Murphy's direction.

The dead-ball call after Newton came up short on third down took Carolina out of field goal range and took everybody back to the season-long narrative about Newton not getting equal treatment. The point was emphasized in the second half when Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short was flagged for hitting Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins out of bounds. Only, Cousins wasn't out of bounds.

"When K.K. hit the quarterback when he was still inbounds, K.K. hit him pretty good and he flew into the sideline, into the cheerleader and up against the wall," Rivera said. "It looked pretty dramatic."

Rivera said after the game – as he's said before – that officials have a tough task trying to make such calls at full speed, and he said Tuesday that angles play a role as well. Television replays bore that out. On the Newton play, former NFL official Gerry Austin was quick upon replay review to say that Murphy should have been flagged, but as he was saying it, another replay ran in which it was hard to tell if Newton's helmet was contacted. On the Cousins call, both ESPN announcers during live action called it an obvious penalty but changed their tune with the benefit of slow motion.

As for Newton's view on his latest no-call?

"You know, I am not going to beat a dead horse, man, so I just can't retaliate in that way," he said. "I am better than that, and I know I am. I can't jeopardize that type of play for my team."

2. Newton does get some protection – from his offensive line: Newton was sacked just twice, and he had his makeshift offensive line to thank. The group, working together for the third consecutive game, kept Washington's pass rush at bay literally with its blocking scheme but also with how well it blocked in the running game to slow down the rush at the point of attack.

"It really did start up front with the offensive line," Rivera said. "Their physicality and their energy level was very high. It helped with the running game, and they did a good job protecting the quarterback for the most part.

"Even though it's a different group up front on the offensive line, they're playing with consistency with the continuity of having the same five guys out there."

More reinforcements were needed for a few plays when right-guard-turned-right-tackle Trai Turner had to get checked for an injury. Left guard Andrew Norwell – the one linemen who started the game in his Week 1 spot – shifted to right tackle, and David Yankey filled in a left guard. It went seamless.

"It's also about who the backups have played," Rivera said. "David Yankey came in and played very well. He's also been our jumbo tight end a couple of times for us, and he's done a nice job. We've got a group of young men who really do the extra things with what Coach (Ray) Brown and Coach (John) Matsko do with them. They work tremendously hard as a group."

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3. Panthers being careful with Kuechly: Linebacker Luke Kuechly was cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol prior to Monday night's game, but the Panthers elected to make him inactive.

On Tuesday, Rivera was asked if star linebacker, who has now missed four consecutive games, would play again this season.

"I can't sit up here and tell you one way or the other without getting an opportunity to sit down and talk and go through things," Rivera said. "I know a couple weeks ago, I was talking about if he's ready to go we're going to roll him out there, but I have a lot of things to think about and I have to make a decision that is going to be best for him and this organization going forward.

"I have to be honest about it and not make just the right decision, but the prudent decision."

That decision isn't made any easier with Kuechly's fervent desire to return to action.

"Very tough. He's a football player. He wants to play in the worst way," Rivera said. "As I go through this and look at all the things, I'll talk with Dave (Gettleman), talk with the doctors, talk with everybody to make sure that at the end of the day we make the right decision."

4. Greg Olsen nearing history: Rivera said he'd like to see Turner get his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod when the representatives are announced tonight at 8 p.m. While that may or may not work out, tight end Greg Olsen seems like a virtual lock for a third consecutive nod. And speaking of things coming in threes, Olsen needs just eight yards to become the first tight end in NFL history with back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

"Don't tell him that because the first thing he'll want is the ball early," Rivera joked. "But I'm glad to hear that."

For a rare time, Olsen wasn't on the field at the end of the Washington game, but expect him to be in there for the beginning of the Atlanta game on Saturday with history at hand.

"He took a shot on the elbow. We'll see how he is," Rivera said. "He's going to see the doctors, and they'll take care of it and we'll go from there."

5. Coleman leads the way on defense: The entire Carolina secondary deserves a lot of credit for the way it kept everything in front of them against an explosive Washington offense, but Rivera singled out the play of veteran safety Kurt Coleman, who led the team with nine tackles and recorded his team-leading fourth interception.

"The guy who had a monster game was Kurt," Rivera said. "He was very active all over the place. You saw him back there as the air traffic controller. He was directing guys, putting guys in the right spot, and he filling where he needed to be. He played a very solid football game."

Coleman has been a steadying presence who has helped bring along cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley – two rookies that appear to be getting better and better as the season goes on.

"Obviously it has taken some time with the new guys and everyone trying to build that chemistry," Coleman said. "But I'm enjoying it. I'm having a lot of fun out there with these guys."


Staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.

View the top photos from Panthers vs. Redskins by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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