In one respect it’s fitting the Carolina Panthers’ longest-tenured player secured Sunday’s victory to send them to next week’s NFC Championship Game.
On the other hand it’s worth asking: Why was veteran linebacker Thomas Davis not only on the “hands team,” but designated as the player to catch the kick?
Panthers players had the same question the first practice that Davis went out for the onside kick prevent team.
It’s hard to argue with the results.
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Davis cleanly fielded Steven Hauschka’s onside kick with 1:11 remaining to thwart Seattle’s second-half comeback and lift the Panthers to a 31-24 victory in the divisional-round game.
Linebackers are usually on the “hands team” to block for receivers and tight ends.
Just know that in that situation I’m going to give everything that I have to the team and make sure I come away with that football.
“They joke about it all the time. It was funny the first time I went out there everybody was like, ‘What’s TD doing out there? He’s walking out there with hands (team),’” Davis said. “But just know that in that situation I’m going to give everything that I have to the team and make sure I come away with that football.”
Seattle pulled off a successful onside kick in last year’s NFC Championship Game after Green Bay’s Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to block on the play, mishandled Hauschka’s kick. The Seahawks recovered and beat the Packers in overtime.
The Panthers watched video of the play Saturday night, and players were told to stick to their assignments and don’t try to do too much. In Davis’ case, that meant snaring Hauschka’s kick after it took a big bounce.
Special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven says he puts the players on the field he believes can best win the game.
“Hands team is like a parachute,” DeHaven said. “Don’t need it very often, but when you do you really need it.”
Hands team is like a parachute. Don’t need it very often, but when you do you really need it.
Panthers special teams coach Bruce DeHaven
Davis is now 2-for-2 in onside recoveries during his first season on the hands team. He also grabbed Dallas kicker Dan Bailey’s onside attempt near the end of the Panthers’ Thanksgiving Day win.
“He’s not an offensive guy and that’s why sometimes people wonder. But the thing about Thomas is when you need a play in a big game, put him in,” said middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who’s on the front line of the hands team.
“We went out there for the onside kick and he’s back there, I don’t have to worry about anything,” Kuechly added. “I know he’s going to end up with that ball, regardless of the situation, whether he’s got to claw for it or whatever.”