CHARLOTTE – The most important piece of the Carolina Panthers defense left Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the fallout looks concerning.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly was placed in the concussion protocol and ruled out for the remainder of the game after he crashed into Eagles offensive guard Brandon Brooks on a pressure in the second quarter.
“The cliché thing is to say ‘Next man up,’ ” Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said after the game. “But we need him.”
“His presence was missed,” quarterback Cam Newton added.
Kuechly has battled concussion issues over the past two seasons, and this marks his third in as many years. Over the past two years, Kuechly has missed nine games because of concussions.
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said after the game that he didn’t have any update on Kuechly’s status moving forward.
It’s difficult not to think of a haunting image from last season: a distressed Kuechly being carted off during a Nov. 17 game against the New Orleans Saints, his teammates surrounding him, and tears streaming down his cheeks.
“We care about Luke as a person,” Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “I love Luke the player. I love Luke the person. We are definitely concerned about that. We are definitely concerned about his health. Hopefully it’s not that bad.”
As Kuechly dashed toward the pocket, Brooks checked him with his forearms, connecting to the area near the linebacker’s neck.
He immediately left the game, as trainers worked on his left shoulder and neck on the sideline. After that, they appeared to ask him several questions. Within a matter of minutes of his sustaining the injury, they whisked Kuechly away to the locker room.
In Kuechly’s place, third-year linebacker David Mayo stepped in. Almost immediately, Eagles coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz focused their attack where Kuechly would have lined up. Kuechly calls out Carolina’s adjustments and is instrumental in getting the defense lined up.
“Some good and some bad,” Mayo said of his performance. “Some things I’ll definitely have to work on. Some schematic things, too. Run defense and making checks, things like that. But I’ll learn from the tape and move on for the better.”
Kuechly registered four tackles prior to leaving the game, bringing his season total to 46 on the season.
“Prayers go out to him,” Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “Hopefully it’s nothing too bad, he’ll get some rest, and he’ll be back in no time.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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