Carson Palmer has been one of the best things in a disappointing season for the Oakland Raiders.
So when the Raiders' veteran quarterback was knocked out in the first quarter of Sunday's 17-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the team's chances of winning took a big hit.
After being flushed from the pocket, Palmer set up to throw when Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy came barreling into him from behind and delivered a vicious blow to the middle of his back.
Hardy was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Raiders received an automatic first down, but lost Palmer for the game.
Palmer watched most of the game from the sideline in the second half. Coach Dennis Allen said X-rays were negative, but the team sent Palmer to the hospital for further evaluations.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Allen said.
Hardy's hit on Palmer was the first in a flurry of penalties by both sides for late hits on receivers and quarterbacks.
At one point, Carolina's Cam Newton got so upset he yelled at and bumped an official after what he thought was a late hit. Newton apologized after the game.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly admitted the Raiders were aiming for Newton.
"You take our guy out, we're going to go and try to take your guy out," Kelly said. "We're not out to hurt someone, but when that happens..."
Newton and the Panthers continue to play their best football down the stretch.
The second-year quarterback threw for 171 yards and a touchdown and ran for 60 yards and another score.
The Panthers (6-9) limited the Raiders to 189 total yards and 12 first downs.
Newton and the Panthers built a 14-3 lead at halftime and let linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy do the rest.
Oakland's offense struggled after Hardy delivered a blow to Palmer's back late in the first quarter.
Matt Leinart managed only 115 yards passing in three-plus quarters.
"That's his first extended action in a regular-season game in a long time, so I'm sure there was a little bit of rust there," Allen said of Leinart. "But, at the end of the day, when you lose your starting quarterback, there are a lot of other guys who have got to step up, and we didn't have enough guys that make enough plays for us offensively."
Newton accounted for 231 of the 271 yards for the Panthers, who have won four of their past five games under coach Ron Rivera. It's unclear if that will be enough to save his job.
Rivera is 12-19 in two years as Carolina's coach.
Oakland (4-11), losers of seven of eight, was held to 47 yards rushing on 22 carries. The longest play was a 22-yard reception by third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor on a trick play.
The Panthers had been starting games fast of late, scoring on their first possession in each of their previous four games.
They appeared to make it five straight when DeAngelo Williams scampered 76 yards around the left end for an apparent touchdown run. But a holding call on receiver Steve Smith nullified the play and the drive stalled.
Smith made up for it on the next drive.
After a 29-yard scramble by Newton for a key first down, the second-year quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and lofted a 23-yard touchdown pass to Smith. The veteran receiver broke off his route and headed up the field after seeing Newton pressured from the pocket.
From there, Carolina seized the momentum.
After a 21-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, Kuechly intercepted a Leinart pass and returned it 25 yards to the Oakland 29.
Four plays later, Newton scored on a 3-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 14-3 lead just before halftime.
The pushing, shoving and taunting continued into the third quarter. The quarter ended when Newton's NFL-long streak of 176 passes without an interception was snapped when Miles Burris picked him off deep in Carolina territory setting the Raiders up at the Panthers 19.
It appeared the Raiders would cut the lead to four, but a 4-yard scoring run by Darren McFadden was called back because of a holding penalty, and they settled for a short field goal by Janikowski.
Down by eight, the Raiders tried to mount one last drive, but it stalled when Hardy tipped a Leinart screen pass on fourth-and-4 at the Carolina 24 with five minutes left in the game.
The Panthers put the game away on a 51-yard field goal by Graham Gano with 2:46 left in the game.