Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, an expected development following the emotional scene that unfolded Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
It’s the second concussion in as many seasons for Kuechly, one of the Panthers’ most popular and successful players. Kuechly was crying and had trouble catching his breath while he was carted off with about five minutes left in the Panthers’ 23-20 victory over New Orleans.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Kuechly was in the protocol, but offered little additional information on Kuechly’s condition at his news conference Friday.
“It’s all very concerning,” Rivera said. “I’m not going to get into the speculation of all this stuff. I’m not the expert when it comes to that.”
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis posted a photo of Instagram on Friday morning in the locker room of him and Kuechly, who was flashing a thumbs-up. Davis’ caption read: “Luke wanted me to let you guys know that he’s doing fine and thanks for your prayers!!”
Kuechly was hurt Thursday on a play similar to one on which he sustained a concussion in Week 1 last season at Jacksonville. Kuechly missed three games while in the protocol.
Thursday, Saints running back Tim Hightower came through the line on a 4-yard run and lowered his helmet into Kuechly’s facemask and then his chest. The impact drove Kuechly backward, and Davis’ helmet struck the back of Kuechly’s helmet.
Rivera said he’s not sure exactly how Kuechly was injured, but agreed that Kuechly had proper tackling form.
Rivera said Kuechly sustained no additional injuries on the play. During the NBC broadcast, there was speculation initially that Kuechly might have hurt his left leg.
While Rivera grew agitated with all the Kuechly questions, the sixth-year coach said he understood the public interest in a player who has become the handsome face of the Panthers’ defense.
“Here’s a guy that’s a warrior. He loves the game and it was an emotional time for him. It was an emotional time for his teammates because his teammates know how important it is to him,” Rivera said. “He’s a very important player for us, as are all of our guys. I appreciate the outpour (of support), I really do. Because he does mean a lot to this organization and to the community as well. I get that part.”
Kuechly becomes the sixth Panthers player to spend time in the concussion protocol during the regular season, including four who remain in it. The list includes backup linebacker A.J. Klein, who sat out Thursday’s victory over the Saints.
Second-year linebacker David Mayo, who replaced Kuechly against New Orleans, wasn’t surprised to see the large gathering of players from both teams approach Kuechly and wish him well before he was taken to the locker room.
“I definitely think that we all felt for Luke. He’s very loved and respected by all of his teammates,” Mayo said. “At the same time, it’s the next man up mentality and we have to play team defense and learn it together.”
Panthers’ players are off this weekend, although it’s likely Kuechly will remain in Charlotte to receive treatment. Rivera said he would have a better idea of the status of the injured players Monday when the team returns for practice.
The Panthers have a West Coast trip upcoming, with games at Oakland on Nov. 27 and at Seattle on Dec. 4. The team plans to stay in northern California the week between the games.