EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. If Sunday night was any indication, Thomas Davis playing the role of situational linebacker will certainly bolster the Carolina Panthers third-down defense.
The veteran linebacker made his return to the field at MetLife Stadium in mostly third-down situations and some special teams as he eases back into the fold following a third reconstructive knee surgery.
It was definitely a great feeling to get back out there with my teammates, not only to be back on the field, but to be out there and actually contribute to the defense, Davis said.
Davis, who had most recently suffered a strained right calf, blitzed on his first three plays in the game and recorded an 8-yard sack on New York Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.
He stalked Sanchez on a delayed blitz before finding a seam in the Jets offensive line to take down Sanchez on a 3rd-and-7 play.
Its like a big burden lifted off your shoulders, Davis said of the sack. You put some so much work in the offseason to repair a third ACL, and once youre able to go out there and the call is made and you make a play, its like a lot has been lifted off your shoulders. My teammates were excited for me. I was excited, and I think that kind of set the tone for us tonight.
Davis was also in on a play that sent New York Jets tight end Josh Baker to the locker room for the rest of the game with an ugly knee injury. The linebacker dropped into coverage on his fourth play in the gamethe first time he was not blitzingand Sanchez targeted his tight end in the end zone.
On another play, after a Cam Newton fumble gave the Jets the ball deep in the Panthers territory, Sanchez scrambled toward the goal line on a 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Davis hustled to meet the quarterback, tripping him up before Norman finished off Sanchez to force a New York field-goal attempt.
He did the things you ask of a linebacker, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. He did a nice job with the pressure, getting the sack. And then he made a nice play on the ball in the end zone. Weve got to keep him healthy and keep him on the football field because hes a huge part of what we want to do. He can really help us.
Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly would usually be exchanged for Davis on third downs. Davis said that likely wont be the case in the regular season, and that his situational play is more ease-you-in than permanent. His cameos on special teams were also part of that plan.
Davis said. Given that when I came back I actually hurt my calf, I havent had a lot of reps. So getting out there and running around and getting more work on the leg and not actually being in a situation where you can hurt yourself, I think the coaches did a great job of using me.
When asked if he would play Thursday night against Pittsburgh in the Panthers final preseason game before the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay, Davis said it will be up the coaches. Hes not 100 percent, but he said hes very, very close.
If the coaches tell me they want me to sit and be ready for Tampa, Ill do that, he said. Im still trying to make this team right now.