Carolina holds on to beat New Orleans to keep its season alive. But it may have been a very costly win as star linebacker Luke Kuechly went down with about five minutes to play.

He went hat to hat with Saint Tim Hightower and then took some friendly fire as well from teammate Thomas Davis at the end of the play. He was carted off and has entered the league’s concussion protocol.

Key phrase here: carted off. You know it’s bad if a guy that tough, that proud, that strong, allows himself to be carted off. You know it’s bad if that dude, of all people, can’t get off the field on his own power. A guy that strong and that proud, is letting them cart him off the field unless he’s badly jacked.

And it is bad, if it is a concussion, given that he already missed three games last year as a result of one; and we know that each concussion suffered increases the risk of having another one.

And this isn’t even a Kuechly thing; it’s become a Carolina thing. He’s the sixth, sixth! Panther to suffer a concussion this season. And while they keep their season alive with the win, it’s hard to imagine them making a playoff run without Kuechly, who is not only their best defensive player, but a spiritual leader. A guy who not only impacts that defense on and off the field but the offense as well. This is a different cat.

You can count on one hand the numbers that are as important to their teams as Kuechly is the Panthers. And if he’s out for any period of time, they’re in big trouble.

And judging from his reaction: you knew it was bad. I’ve never seen a player react quite like that to an injury. Sure, guys who suffer devastating injuries and know what it is when it happens, and what kind of insane climb they’ll be looking at, often do react emotionally in that moment. But I’ve never seen a guy openly weep and have that much trouble catching his breath after an injury. I’ve never seen a player cry like that; I have no idea what that guy was dealing with in that moment.

But you know those weren’t tears of physical pain. I’m guessing that’s a guy, who is obsessed with the game, loves his teammates and was devastated that he had to abandon the fight and knew that the game was being ripped from him.

That was not an easy thing to watch. You can talk all you want about how that’s a next man up, game or a next man up business. But you don’t next man up, Luke Kuechly. Because there really is another player or guy like him. You’re not replacing him; and if he’s out for any period of time, their playoff hopes are pretty much dead.


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