The Panthers hung on to beat the Saints on Thursday night by a final score of 23-20. The team moved to 4-6, putting them only two games back of the Falcons for first place in the division. There were some great moments in the game. Cam Newton hit Ted Ginn on a miraculous touchdown to end the half – one of the best throw and catch combos of the season. Kelvin Benjamin hauled in a hugely important 18 yard catch on third and ten in the fourth quarter. This allowed the Panthers to shave another 2:11 off the clock before punting the ball to Drew Brees with only 28 seconds remaining. However, this game came at a innumerable cost.
The Scary Reality of Luke Kuechly’s Future
Late in the fourth quarter, Luke Kuechly suffered one of the more emotionally grueling injuries in the past few years. The 2013 Defensive Player of the Year took an accidental shot to the back of the head from fellow linebacker Thomas Davis while making a tackle on Tim Hightower.
mattclapp: Luke Kuechly being evaluated for a concussion NFL Netwo… Thursday Night Football… https://t.co/kLafz1HIsN pic.twitter.com/JK18yslEF0
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) November 18, 2016
What really happened?
The play had everyone spinning. It was truly an emotional whirlwind. Anytime a player is down, it’s tough. The moment you realize the player down is a superstar, leader, and all around great guy by all accounts, it’s harder. NBC cut to a replay of the injury, where Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels did their best to diagnose what had happened. They came to the conclusion most everyone did – this looked like a lower body injury at first glance. While in anguish thinking that Kuechly had torn a ligament in his knee, video went back to a live shot of him on the field. He stood up and got on the cart.
The next part is what hits you. The emotion shown by Kuechly himself while being carted off the field is something we rarely see from professional athletes. Cam Newton is superman; Lebron is the King. Nothing can happen to these guys, right? But Luke Kuechly, probably the best inside linebacker in all of pro football, was being carted off of the field, sobbing. He was so broken down.
Oh no, Luke Kuechly pic.twitter.com/BNR01C2Xcn
— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) November 18, 2016
There’s no way to know what was going through Kuechly’s mind when he was being carted off. Was he simply experiencing concussion symptoms that have no rational bearings? Was he disappointed he couldn’t help the team finish the game off? Did he fear that by the time he was cleared to play the Panthers would be effectively eliminated from contention? Could it be running through his mind that he’d never see a snap of football again? This is all speculation. Safety Kurt Coleman did say to the media after the game that Kuechly was coherent enough to be able to tell them to keep fighting and win the game while being carted off.
Kuechly’s Concussion History
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Kuechly sidelined by a concussion. In 2015, he left the first game of the season with concussion symptoms. He would miss the next three games recovering, not seeing the field again until week six. There’s no way to know if there was any sort of conversation that went on during this last concussion. Was he so emotional because he knew there would be serious repercussions if this happened again?
Kuechly has spoken out about his concussion history before. Following his concussion last season, he had this to say while speaking to SI.com’s Peter King. “It’s a game I love to play so much… I’m going to play it as long as I can. Everybody at this level makes a choice, and you know what you sign up for. I have my mind right. I know what I’m doing,” Kuechly said. “I know the risks. I love the game. I’m going to keep playing it.”
We’re not sure what will come next for Kuechly. At this point, there has been very little information released from the team. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis provided a bit of information with his Friday morning Instagram post, saying Kuechly is “fine.”
Good vibes from Luke & TD!
(via https://t.co/VjFkkgdQyr) pic.twitter.com/uH2Mbejcvh
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 18, 2016
Kuechly is officially in the concussion protocol, but other than that, we know very little. It was recently announced that he would seek a second opinion from an independent neurologist, but no information has been released as to when this will take place. Head coach Ron Rivera has announced that there is no timetable on his return. Ultimately, the decisions to be made in the following days and weeks need to reflect not only what is best for the Carolina Panthers, but what is best for Luke Kuechly.