Sunday, December 22, 2013
Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis key Panthers
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is in the market for a public relations manager, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would be a good place to start.
"Defensively, with Luke Kuechly with 24 tackles, that's unheard of,'' Newton said of his teammate after Sunday's 17-13 victory against the New Orleans Saints.
It's definitely rarified air.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, taking into consideration the record of tackle data began in 1994, it ties the league record set by David Harris of the New York Jets on Nov. 4, 2004.
Throw in Kuechly's interception and it becomes more rarified. No player had recorded 20 tackles and an interception in a game since Derrick Brooks in 2001.
Not that anybody should be surprised Kuechly did this. He was known as a tackling machine when the Panthers (11-4) made him the ninth pick of the 2012 NFL draft out of Boston College, where he led the nation with 191 tackles in 2011.
In his rookie year at Carolina, he led the NFL with 164 tackles.
Heading into Sunday's game, he had a team-best 141 tackles for the league's No. 2 defense.
Tackling is what he does, and a big reason the Panthers are a win at Atlanta away from winning the NFC South.
Taking credit for it, he doesn't do. Kuechly credited his ability to become a personal wrecking machine against the Saints on his defensive line for taking up would-be blockers.
There's something to that. But Kuechly was making tackles before the front became so stout with the addition of rookie tackle Star Lolulelei.
What doesn't need to be overlooked here are the 14 tackles and interception recorded by outside linebacker Thomas Davis. What he did to stifle quarterback Drew Brees and company, especially on their patented screens, was invaluable.
Davis, by the way, came into the game already with a career-high 128 tackles.
"They are two quality football players,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "I'm very partial because I think they are one of the best one-two tandems of linebackers in the league.''
Unfortunately, Davis gets overlooked much of the time -- particularly when it comes to the Pro Bowl vote. He's not ranked in the top 10 at his position with voting ending on Thursday. Kuechly was ranked third earlier this week.
If you let Brees and the Saints vote, they might both be No. 1.
Or just let Newton handle PR. He mentioned the defense more than the offense during his post-game comments, and rightfully so since the defense kept this game close enough for him to win at the end with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon.
"With TD [Davis] defying all odds with his situation [three ACL knee surgeries], and those guys, I can't be more proud of those guys or of being a part of a team,'' he said. "With the sacks, the pressure, it was just great to be a part of today.''