Panthers' Davis deserves NFL's Comeback award

Hard-luck linebacker coming off brilliant performance
Nov. 20, 2012 @ 06:39 AM

It’s inspiring to see Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis fly around the field after tearing his ACL not once, not twice, but three times in the same knee.

Davis is the first player in NFL history to return after three ACL injuries, and deserves to be recognized as the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. With all due respect to Peyton Manning, Davis’ return to form was much more improbable.

Davis was the Panthers’ best player in Sunday’s 27-21 overtime loss to Tampa Bay (6-4).

The 6-1, 235-pound linebacker had 16 tackles — six more than anybody else in the game — and also forced a fumble at the goal line that teammate Luke Kuechly recovered in the end zone.

The competitive spirit that allowed the 29-year-old Davis to recover from three season-ending injuries surfaced next to his locker after the game.

He was animated about a questionable 15-yard penalty late in the final minute of regulation, when he leveled Bucs receiver Tiquan Underwood with his shoulder but was still called for unncessary roughness. The play covered 33 yards and led to a game-tying touchdown.

“You can’t play defense anymore because they’re looking around to see if a guy is going to lay on the field,” said Davis, who now has 59 tackles and two forced fumbles on the season. “Clearly you can see I went in low, tried to get my shoulder under his shoulder. Then he laid down on the field and they called a penalty. It’s ridiculous. It don’t make no sense.”

Carolina’s offense barely outscored its own defense (14-7), but the Panthers still held a 21-10 lead with 4:54 to play in regulation.

“Defensively, we’ve been playing well all season and we wanted the game to be in our hands at the end,” Davis said. “But we didn’t get it done.”

Carolina fell to 2-8 on the season and second-year coach Ron Rivera is now 10 games under .500 (8-18) since he took over.

The cry for a new coaching staff is getting louder among Panthers fans, who have watched blow second-half leads in six of their eight losses.

Five of Carolina’s losses are by six points or less.

Rivera, who felt his defense wore down, knows letting an 11-point lead get away in the final five minutes is a poor reflection.

“This is absolutely as bad as it gets,” Rivera said. “We had plenty of opportunities.”

Kuechly, a rookie middle linebacker, was blanketing Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson when he hauled in the pivotal 24-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman on the final drive of regulation.

“I was playing his eyes and I got in there a little late,” Kuechly said.

Kuechly had 10 tackles in the loss to Tampa Bay, marking his sixth straight double-digit tackle performance.

Kuechly now has 97 tackles on the year, which ranks third in the NFL behind New England’s Jerod Mayo (101) and Minnesota’s Chad Greenway (100).