The NFL couldn't have asked for a more exciting start to the 2016 season than what the Panthers and Broncos gave them in the rematch of Super Bowl 50, but Denver holding on for a 21-20 win was partially overshadowed by officiating that still seemed stuck in the preseason.

Specifically: Referee Gene Steretore is one of the league's best, and we all have rough days at the office (just ask Graham Gano), but his crew missed numerous instances of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton taking head shots from Broncos defenders.

Newton didn't make excuses after the game -- "It's not my job to question the officials" -- but teammate Thomas Davis didn't mince words when talking to reporters.

"That's nothing new," the veteran linebacker said, via the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler. "They didn't do anything different that hasn't happened all along. It's just something that the league is going to have to police and they're going to have to do a better job of and start treating him like the quarterback that he is.

"They look at his size. It's kind of like the NBA used to allow guys to get away with that against Shaquille O'Neal because of his size. But when you dig deep down into it, they talk about player safety all the time and they need to protect that player as well."

It's also similar to the treatment big quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco received early in their careers. Perhaps officials subconsciously struggle to reconcile how someone who looks like a tight end is afforded the same protections as, say, Sam Bradford, even though they know the rules better than the rest of us. It's little consolation, but Roethlisberger and Flacco, now old-timers by NFL standards, get those calls. For now, however, Newton is judged by a different set of standards.

"You see it. It's pretty obvious," Davis continued. "But at the end of the day that didn't cost us this football game. Those plays didn't cost us this game. We didn't execute. They did. Now we're moving on."