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The Carolina Panthers will be without their defensive leader a third consecutive game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was ruled out Saturday. The Panthers announced that Kuechly remains in the concussion protocol, an indication the NFL’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year failed to pass his final test with an independent neurologist.
Safety Kurt Coleman and rookie cornerback Daryl Worley both cleared the protocol, the team said.
All three players were listed as questionable Friday, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera cautioned they were scheduled to visit the doctor later that day.
“They’re just going through the steps of the protocol,” Rivera said Friday. “If they proceed accordingly, then hopefully everything is fine. You always keep your fingers crossed.”
Kuechly was listed as full participation at Friday’s practice after being limited early in the week.
Kuechly sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of a Nov. 17 win against New Orleans. A collision with Saints running back Tim Hightower left Kuechly sobbing and hyperventilating as he was carted to the locker room at Bank of America Stadium.
Neurologists say such as reaction is not uncommon, and two Panthers players told the Observer they had similar emotional responses to concussions.
Kuechly missed three games last season after sustaining a Week 1 concussion at Jacksonville.
The Panthers were looking forward to getting Kuechly back after giving up 40 points and 534 yards last week at Seattle.
Fourth-year linebacker A.J. Klein is expected to start in Kuechly’s place again.
Starting defensive end Charles Johnson also will miss the Chargers game with a hamstring injury. Rivera said Kony Ealy, who’s been coming off the bench in recent weeks, would start in place of Johnson.