After Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was penalized and ejected from Sunday’s loss to Green Bay for making contact with an official, injured teammate Chase Blackburn referred to the call as “complete bull” on Twitter.
A day later, Blackburn was still upset with the ejection of Kuechly, and called on the league to issue a statement saying back judge Steve Freeman erred in judgment.
“I would be disappointed if they didn’t issue a statement on it, in reality,” Blackburn said Monday. “Officials are held accountable, too. That’s how I look at it.”
Under the NFL fines schedule, players who make contact with an official face a $27,562 fine. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes there’s “zero chance” Kuechly will be fined, and indicated general manager Dave Gettleman would talk to the league about the situation.
Kuechly was tossed late in the third quarter as players and officials sought to break up a scrum following a fumble by Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy that the Packers recovered.
Packers tight end Richard Rodgers first tried to pull Kuechly off the pile. When Freeman grabbed Kuechly’s arm and midsection from behind, Kuechly threw his left elbow back toward Freeman.
Kuechly said he didn’t realize it was an official who had a hold of him.
Blackburn, an outside linebacker who’s sidelined with a knee injury, said Kuechly did nothing wrong.
“I’ve looked at it 100 times and not his character, not anything on the field, off the field, not that play, nothing about it to me was blatant to warrant a flag, let alone an ejection,” said Blackburn, the Panthers’ NFL Players Association rep.
“I understand they’re trying to protect officials, but if a guy grabs you from the back (and) you can’t see who it is, you should be able to shrug your arm to get him off. He didn’t swing, didn’t push, didn’t do anything. He tried to get his arm off.”
Injury updates: The Carolina Panthers have been able to avoid any major injury to a big-name player, but week by week the team continues to be eaten away by injuries to its starters.
In the 38-17 loss to Green Bay, starting left tackle Byron Bell suffered a deep elbow contusion, starting right guard Trai Turner suffered knee and ankle sprains to his left leg and kick and punt returner Philly Brown was dealt a concussion.
The severity of the injuries varies. Brown will be in the concussion protocol this week, and Turner said his ankle is worse than his knee after getting rolled up on in the first quarter. He will likely miss this week’s game at Seattle.
But it’s not all gloom and doom along the offensive line
“The news on Byron was a lot better than we expected, so thank goodness,” said Rivera, who said the swelling will need to go down in the elbow and Bell will be evaluated Wednesday.
Starting left guard Amini Silatolu could be back this week after spraining his calf against the Bengals. Rivera said Silatolu has a high pain tolerance, and that gives him hope for the third-year lineman.
Veteran guard Chris Scott could be activated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to add depth at the interior of the line.
Undrafted rookie Andrew Norwell played well in place of Turner at left guard. And when Bell went out, undrafted rookie David Foucault had his ups and downs at left tackle for 29 snaps.
“He got beat a couple times, one on a bulrush he got pushed all the way to the quarterback,” Rivera said. “You see the potential and you see the growth. These are young guys, and you never expected to have to play them as early as you did and as much as we did, but for getting those extended opportunities I thought they did a nice job.”
While Rivera said the offensive line did some good things later in the game, it was the first-half play that helped sink the offense.
The Panthers had 39 rushing yards in the first half, and consistent pressure from the Packers’ defense led to just nine first-quarter plays on three possessions.
Benwikere still not ready: Rivera and Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott made it clear Monday that when rookie Bene’ Benwikere comes back, he will start at nickel corner.
Benwikere has been dealing with an ankle sprain since the Chicago game and hasn’t played in the past two games. His role has been filled by veteran Charles Godfrey, who has looked slow at times in his first season back from tearing his Achilles.
“We’ll see how he is (Tuesday), but (the doctors) weren’t as optimistic about Bené as I would have liked for them to be,” Rivera said.
The Panthers have sorely missed Benwikere’s athleticism and instincts on the field in their nickel defense. He’s no longer in a protective cast but he still has an ankle brace.
It’s a position the Bengals and Packers exploited the past two weeks, and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has a propensity for exposing soft spots in coverage with his ability to extend plays outside of the pocket.
“He’s a quarterback that’s very versatile,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “He does a great job of getting gout of the pocket and extending plays downfield. As a defense you have to understand that we are in situations where you can’t leave guys or take plays off. You have to understand that everything is live, so you have to compete until the whistle is blown.”
Ealy getting snaps: Rookie defensive end Kony Ealy has played more reps as a 4-3 defensive end than any other rookie in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
But in his 133 snaps this season, he has three tackles, one quarterback pressure, zero tackles for loss and zero sacks.
With the Panthers without Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, Ealy must produce with his limited reps, and he believes it starts this week.
“When I get that first sack or first TFL, it’s going to keep coming and it’s going to get more natural,” Ealy said. “It’s going to be a different ball game all the way around.”
Ealy was inactive for the season opener but he’s played in every game since. His 133 snaps in the 408 total snaps the previous six games puts him at nearly 33 percent participation this season in games he’s active.
“I haven’t hit my rookie wall yet and I don’t think I will,” Ealy said. “This will probably be the worst you’ll see out of me as far as rookie wall or whatever you want to call it. When I get going it’s going to be tough.”