I think it’s very questionable as to whether middle linebacker Luke Kuechly plays Sunday at home against New Orleans. Kuechly was inactive against Houston with a concussion, missing the first game of his career after 49 consecutive regular-season starts. Head coach Ron Rivera didn’t say much about Kuechly’s status after the game. But reading between the lines, he sounded worried to me. Linebacker A.J. Klein had a nice game in Kuechly’s absence, including a fine interception. But with no disrespect to Klein, he is not Kuechly.
▪ Kony Ealy got away with one Sunday – actually, he got away with two. The Panthers’ second-year defensive end had two terrible penalties on Houston’s final drive – one for roughing the passer and one for jumping offside. Each came on third down, each gave Houston a first down and each contributed to the Panthers’ 92 yards in penalties, their most since 2012. Thomas Davis also had an obvious and flagrant late hit that cost Carolina 15 yards earlier in the game.
▪ Watching Josh Norman cover DeAndre Hopkins all over the field was a real joy. Both men had their moments, but Norman ultimately held Hopkins to 53 yards (five catches on 11 targets) and no points (Hopkins had had two TDs and a two-point conversion the week before). That is a win for Norman overall.
▪ What is the deal with the Panthers’ special teams getting two field goals blocked in two weeks? That’s embarrassing. On the other hand, Brad Nortman had a huge day, banging seven punts for an average of 53.9 yards.
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▪ Newton’s rush total of 76 yards was only the sixth-best of his career, which reminds you of how many times he has been able to do something like that.