Panthers' Luke Kuechly suffers concussion, ESPN source says

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UPDATE: Panthers' star linebacker Luke Kuechly suffered a concussion in Thursday night's game, an ESPN source confirmed.

ESPN said the concussion is Kuechly's second in the past two seasons.

Kuechly is considering heading to Pittsburgh to see concussion specialist, Dr. Micky Collins, ESPN reported.

Kuechly last suffered a concussion in the Panthers’ 2015 season opener.

He is the sixth player on the team to be diagnosed with a concussion this season.

Cam Newton threw for 192 yards and a touchdown and the Carolina Panthers held off New Orleans' fourth- quarter rally to beat the Saints 23-20 on Thursday night in a game marred by injuries to key players.

Newton was 14 of 33 and threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. to help the Panthers (4-6) win for third time in three games and pull even with the Saints for third place in the NFC South.

Jonathan Stewart also ran for a touchdown and Graham Gano had three field goals.

But the win didn't come without a cost.

The question now is whether the Panthers will be without some of their top defensive players - including star linebacker Luke Kuechly - as they try to keep the momentum going.

Kuechly, a three-time Pro Bowler and former NFL defensive player of the year, was carted off late in the fourth quarter of Thursday's 23-20 win against New Orleans to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

Since the game ended, Channel 9 has learned that Kuechly is officially under concussion protocol. Next will come a series of tests.

Teammate Greg Olsen said the number one priority is making sure that Kuechly is OK before he heads back on the field.

"Regardless of when he comes back or any of that, it's out the window. You just hope he's alright and its a tough game, sometimes those are th real ugly parts of it of course," Olsen said.

On Friday morning, fellow linebacker Thomas Davis posted to Facebook that Kuechly was feeling OK and was grateful for everyone's prayers.

Luke wanted me to let you guys know that he's doing fine and thanks for your prayers!! #KeepPounding

Posted by Thomas Davis on Friday, November 18, 2016

The defense also lost sack leader Mario Addison with a right foot injury and nickel cornerback Leonard Johnson with a chest injury.

Kuechly left the field on a cart while tears streamed down his face.

The Panthers were also without backup linebacker A.J. Klein and reserve safety Colin Jones with concussions.

"We hate those guys go down like that," defensive end Kony Ealy said, "but we've just got to go out there and keep grinding like they were still on the field, you know?"

The injuries offered some jarring moments for a team that spent three-plus quarters keeping Drew Brees and the Saints in check roughly a month after surrendering 523 yards to them on the road. The Saints had 203 total yards and trailed 23-3 entering the final quarter before making a late push to get back in the game.

"I said it leading up to this week: no balls over our head," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We didn't give up the big play. This offense is very dynamic. Drew is very smart. What they do well is really beat you with a lot of trickery and hit you over the top and they make a lot of big plays.

"We really went into it saying, 'Hey, if you throw the checkdown, we've got to make the tackles."

The Panthers had strung together three solid defensive performances since the 41-38 loss to New Orleans on Oct. 16. They gave up 340 yards and had two takeaways in a 30-20 win against Arizona in a rematch of last year's NFC championship game, gave up 339 yards in a 13-10 win at Los Angeles then held Kansas City to 256 yards in a 20-17 loss last week.

During that stretch, they surrendered just four offensive touchdowns. And on Thursday, they didn't surrender one until nearly 50 minutes into the game, finished with three sacks and held the Saints to 107 yards rushing.

"That's how we like it," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "That's how the D-line takes their pride. We don't want (defensive coordinator Sean) McDermott to have to call blitzes. ... The D-line is supposed to take care of the quarterback and take care of the run."

But the injuries, Kuechly's in particular, hung over that performance and leaves uncertainty entering next week's trip to Oakland.

#GetWellSoon Luke! Kuechly was being evaluated for a concussion after he was hurt Thursday night and then carted off...

Posted by WSOC-TV on Thursday, November 17, 2016

He was hurt as he tried to tackle Tim Hightower and Hightower's helmet struck him first in the facemask and then possibly the chest.

As he went to the ground, teammate Thomas Davis' helmet struck him at the base of his neck and his knee bent back.

Kuechly could be seen crying and his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.

Fans were distraught as the linebacker laid on the ground. A few moments later he got to his feet and was helped onto a cart and driven off the field.

Fans chanted his name as Saints players encouraged him.

Kuechly missed three games with a concussion last season.

Coach Ron Rivera said he wouldn't speculate on Kuechly's status.

“You know him, he wants to play, and I guess getting hurt is tough for him to take,” Rivera said. “We'll see how he's doing.”

"I'm praying that everything was just precautionary and everything that comes back is all right," Coleman said. "Bottom line is I want him to be healthy."

The Panthers, who surrendered a 17-point lead and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, entered the fourth quarter with a 23-3 lead before injuries set in.

Drew Brees, who was limited to 171 yards and no touchdowns in the first three quarters, rallied the Saints back to within 23-20, connecting on touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman and Coby Fleener.

Brees threw for 285 yards.

That was a dramatic difference from the last time the two teams met on Oct. 16 when Brees threw for 465 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-38 win over the Panthers.

LOSE SOME, WIN SOME

Maybe Ginn is just too fast for officials.

In the first quarter Ginn appeared to score on a 14-yard run, but officials reviewed the play and ruled his knee was down at the 1-yard line taking away a touchdown. Then, in the closing seconds of the second quarter, officials ruled Ginn was out of bounds on a pass from Cam Newton. But after instant replay officials overturned the ruling and gave Ginn a 40-yard touchdown catch.

UNDER PRESSURE

Newton was under heavy pressure for most of the first half, taking a sack on third down that took his team out of field goal range — the second time he has done that in as many weeks.

A COOL BREES

Brees eclipsed 3,000 yards passing for the 13th consecutive season, tying Peyton Manning for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

GETTING YOUR KICKS

The Panthers lost punt Andy Lee to a hamstring injury and easily could have lost Gano on Thursday night after Kenny Vaccaro came crashing into Gano's legs on a 30-yard field goal attempt. Vaccaro was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Panthers an automatic first down. But Carolina couldn't find the end zone and Gano wound up coming back out to kick a 32-yard field goal giving Carolina a 3-0 lead.

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