CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Cam Newton's frustrating season has taken another unfortunate turn after a horrific-looking traffic accident left the Carolina Panthers quarterback's playing status unclear.
Newton escaped life-threatening injuries Tuesday when his truck crashed and overturned following a two-vehicle accident. But he did suffer two fractures in his lower back, leaving his return to the field in question coming off his best game of the season.
Newton was expected to be released from a Charlotte hospital on Wednesday after an overnight stay and undergoing tests. But team spokesman Charlie Dayton couldn't say when the two-time Pro Bowler would return to practice or if he'll play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Right now we have thought about Cam's well-being and we understand there was someone else in the other car who was injured," Dayton said. "We just hope that they're all OK."
Dayton said Newton sustained two transverse process fractures but will not need surgery.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered the same injury description earlier this year against Washington -- albeit on the field -- and sat out one game before returning to action the following week.
Dr. Andrew Hecht, chief of spine surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said the transverse process is the small bone that sticks out of either side of the vertebrae.
Hecht said while the injury can be painful, the bones are "of no significance in terms of the overall structural stability of the spine."
He said Newton's return to football will largely depend on how the quarterback feels, adding that Newton could have additional soft tissue damage.
"It would be hard to speculate on when" he'd be able to play football," Hecht said.
Dayton said Newton was listed in fair condition. That's good news for the Panthers, but the bad back is Newton's latest injury setback -- he has had surgery on his ankle and suffered fractured ribs.
Newton missed Carolina's first game against Tampa Bay in Week 1 due to other injuries.
He had ankle surgery in March that sidelined him for all but one of the team's spring practices. He returned for the start of the training camp, but suffered another setback when he fractured his ribs during a preseason game against the New England Patriots.
Coach Ron Rivera held Newton out of the season opener, but veteran backup Derek Anderson led the Panthers to a victory. Now Anderson might be asked to do the same on Sunday.
Anderson took to Twitter on Tuesday night: "My thoughts and prayers are with my brother (at)CameronNewton and his family. Positive thoughts sent ur way on such a scary day!(hash)Wolfpack"
Carolina's quarterbacks collectively call themselves the "wolfpack."
The timing couldn't be worse for Newton.
He is having a roller-coaster season, but put it all together Sunday against New Orleans. The Panthers (4-8-1) catapulted themselves back in the NFC South playoff hunt with a 41-10 rout of the Saints.
Newton threw three touchdown passes and led five TD drives, his best game in nearly a month-and-a-half. He also broke a string of eight straight games with an interception.
The win put the Panthers one-half game behind the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints (both 5-8) and set up an important matchup this Sunday with the 2-11 Buccaneers.
If Newton does return this week, how effective he could be also is unclear.
Dayton said he hadn't spoken directly to Newton on Tuesday. The accident happened within a few hundred yards of the team's stadium. Dayton said he believes Newton was on his way to the facility, though he wasn't certain. Players had the day off Tuesday, but it's fairly common for them to go to the team facility and study game film.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson stopped to visit Newton at the hospital, but was unable to see the quarterback because he was undergoing tests, Dayton said. Richardson left Tuesday to attend league meetings in Dallas.
Television footage showed Newton on a stretcher being placed in an ambulance after the crash. Photos from The Charlotte Observer showed the 25-year-old smiling as an officer attended to him on the ground.
A black pickup truck that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesman Robert Tufano said Newton was driving was overturned on the roadway with debris scattered all over the street. The roof was caved in and a tow truck later was hauling it away. Another car that appeared to be involved in the crash had front end damage.
Police were investigating how the crash happened on a bridge that crosses busy I-277 in the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers play.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did not release an accident report, but did release four 911 calls.
"I just noticed a car flipping," one person said.
Another driver said she saw a truck rolling over above the Interstate-277 bypass and a third called frantically and said "he needs an ambulance."
An Atlanta native, Newton led the Auburn Tigers to a national championship in 2010.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Newton has started 60 of 61 games for the Panthers.
Newton has one year left on his rookie contract after the Panthers picked up an option worth approximately $15 million for 2015. The Panthers have repeatedly said Newton is a player they view as their franchise quarterback moving forward.