Eleven seasons, going on a 12th. Three ACL tears, surgeries, unprecedented recoveries. A broken arm; a Super Bowl played in a cast.
And finally, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis reached the end zone.
“Man, it feels good. It’s a great feeling,” he said, perspiring and grinning widely at his locker after the game. “Something that’s eluded me for 12 years, but now I’m excited to say that I scored my first touchdown.”
The play set the tone for Carolina’s 30-20 victory Sunday in the NFC title game rematch against the Arizona Cardinals.
Davis punctuated his run with a stiff-arm on Arizona running back David Johnson to shake off the would-be takedown.
“It just kind of worked out,” said Davis. “I saw him and that’s the first thing I thought about, was not letting the first guy tackle me. You saw what happened after that. I got him with a stiff-arm and ended up in the end zone.”
Rookie cornerback Daryl Worley was chasing the ball after it wobbled to the ground, too, and he chattered at him all the way to the end zone once Davis scooped it up.
“I was just talkin’ to him, even when he scored,” Worley laughed. “Full of cheer and happiness for him. But at the same time, I wish it was me! I just said, ‘Man, I wish it was me. ... But congratulations!’ ”
Thomas said he kept the ball, and it’s going up in the front of the trophy shelf.
“It definitely feels good to get in the end zone, and it actually counts this time,” said Thomas. He said he’d had three or four similar plays that he could remember, most recently in a preseason game against Baltimore a few years ago, but all were called back.
Thomas was worried this one might be, too. There was an official review of whether Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was in a throwing motion when the ball came loose, helped along by heavy pressure by defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Palmer appeared to argue after the play that it should have been called an incomplete pass.
Davis didn’t even celebrate.
“I didn’t think it was going to count,” he said, shrugging. For a second, Davis said, he too thought it was an incomplete pass.
The play stood, though, and was a spark for Carolina, which finished with eight sacks of Palmer, the most Arizona’s quarterback has ever taken.
While Thomas stayed calm after his score, his teammates went wild on the sideline – none moreso than quarterback Cam Newton.
“I think anytime Thomas steps up and makes plays, I think the guys really do appreciate that because he works so hard,” coach Ron Rivera said. “And not because of what he’s come through and all that, but because he’s one of the heart-and-soul players on this team and we’re really thrilled for him.”
Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071, @jourdanrodrigue