Thomas Davis didn’t win the NFL’s comeback player of the year award in 2012, but the Panthers’ linebacker can take solace in Wednesday’s announcement that he is the NFC’s defensive player of the week.
Davis, who missed parts of three seasons following three ACL surgeries on his right knee, had a career-high two sacks and added a game-high nine tackles and a pass breakup in the 35-10 victory at Minnesota.
It was the first such honor in nine seasons for Davis, the Panthers’ first-round pick from Georgia in 2005.
“He was really excited about it when I told him. He had a big smile on his face,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
In 2012, Davis became the first known NFL player to return from three ACL surgeries on the same knee. He played in 15 games and finished second behind Luke Kuechly for the team lead in tackles.
But Denver quarterback Peyton Manning won the comeback award after returning from four neck surgeries and leading the Broncos to the playoffs. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was second in the voting after rushing for more than 2,000 yards eight months after ACL surgery.
“There were two other very good candidates. It just went to somebody else,” Rivera said. “But to me, (Davis) epitomizes comeback, and those are the kind of people you pull for.”
Davis, 30, briefly considered retiring after tearing the ligament a third time in Week 2 in 2011. But after meeting with a group that included his wife, trainer Ryan Vermillion, team owner Jerry Richardson and former general manager Marty Hurney, Davis began planning his comeback.
“I had never heard of a guy coming back or even attempt to come back from a third ACL to the same knee. So that (thought of retirement) went through my head,” Davis said. “But I know at the same time I love this game. I wasn’t ready to be done. I still felt like I had a lot left to offer, and they gave me an opportunity and I took advantage of it.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton praised Davis’ determination and leadership.
“Just going through everything that he’s been through, it’s just a credit to who he is as a person and a player,” Newton said. “A guy that works his tail off day in and day out, and leads as best as I’ve ever seen.”
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was the NFC defensive player of the week after his three-sack game against the Giants in Week 3. The last time the Panthers had two defensive weekly award winners was 2009 when Julius Peppers and Jon Beason were honored.
Stewart update: Running back Jonathan Stewart worked out with trainers during Wednesday’s practice, but Rivera said it’s unlikely Stewart would play this week against St. Louis.
Stewart, on the physically unable to perform list following offseason surgeries on both ankles, indicated this week he needs a couple of weeks to get ready for game action.
Teams have a three-week window in which to allow players on the PUP list to begin practicing, then have another three-week stretch from the day the player begins practicing to decide whether to activate him.
Williams returns: Backup linebacker and special teams contributor Jason Williams won’t need more than a refresher course on the playbook. Williams, one of the final roster cuts in August, re-signed Wednesday when guard Amini Silatolu (knee) was placed on injured reserve.
Williams, who worked out for Detroit after the Panthers cut him, said he’s happy to be back.
“It wouldn’t matter where they put me because that’s how comfortable I am with the system. I was just in it six weeks ago. So you don’t forget stuff like that,” he said. “I’m definitely ready to step in and help out on special teams.”
Williams plays all four phases of special teams and will allow linebacker Chase Blackburn and fullback Mike Tolbert to take fewer special teams reps.
Injury report: Rookie strong safety Robert Lester returned to practice after missing the Vikings game with a hamstring injury. Lester said he tried not to overdo it his first day back, but “definitely” expects to play against the Rams.
Tight end Greg Olsen had his left foot in a protective boot Wednesday – the same routine he followed last week before practicing twice and starting at Minnesota.
“Just trying to be smart with it early in the week and – similar to last week – rev it up toward the end and be ready to go on Sunday,” said Olsen, who’s played in 99 consecutive games.
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hamstring) and cornerback D.J. Moore (knee) remain sidelined. Neither has played since the loss at Buffalo in Week 2.
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