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Loss of Luke Kuechly dampens Panthers' hopes of statement win

From ESPN - October 12, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Shouts of "Luuuuuke" reverberated through Bank of America Stadium when Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was the last player introduced before Thursday's prime-time game against the Philadelphia Eagles

There was stunned silence when Kuechly jogged to the locker room late in the first half to be evaluated for a concussion. He never returned, entering the concussion protocol for the third time in three seasons.

A game in which the Panthers could have made a statement as the best team in the NFC turned into a 28-23 loss amid concern for the health of their defensive leader.

Health is a big thing," Panthers nickelback Captain Munnerlyn said. You cant keep having those things. I just pray for him and hope all is well."

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton did all he could to keep pace with the Eagles, who scored 25 of the game's next 31 points after Kuechly left. Newton had the Panthers (4-2) within a touchdown when he threw an interception with 3:06 remaining in the contest.

But ultimately, this came down to the fact that the Carolina defense did not have an answer for quarterback Carson Wentz and Philadelphia's offense once Kuechly left.

Instead of Carolina re-establishing itself as a Super Bowl contender, questions resurfaced about the prospect of defensive life without Kuechly.

Again.

We need Luke, Newton said. I didnt know he was out for the most part of the game. But his presence was missed. We kind of had a lethargic wave there in the third quarter.

Kuechly missed three games in 2015 with a concussion suffered in the opener at the Jacksonville Jaguars; he was in the concussion protocol for three games. In 2016, he was held out the final three games as a precaution after suffering his second concussion in a prime-time game against the New Orleans Saints.

There were no tears when Kuechly left the field this time, as there were during the Saints game when the Pro Bowl player exited on a cart. But there is concern because the 26-year-old is the quarterback of what was the league's third-ranked defense coming into the night.

How long he will be out remains to be seen. Because the Panthers do not play for 10 days, there's a chance Kuechly could be back for the Oct. 22 game at the Chicago Bears.

The good news is the defense will have a chance to prepare for upcoming opponents with David Mayo, who finished Thursday's game at middle linebacker after getting only mental reps in preparation for the Eagles. Carolina thought enough of Mayo's play at the end of last season that they did not re-sign veteran A.J. Klein.

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