• Panthers' Kuechly deals with concussions issues for 3rd straight year

    By: Mark Barber


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Carolina Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly is back in the concussion protocol, and that could leave a big hole at the heart of the Panthers' defense.

    Kuechly left the Panthers' 28-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first half Thursday night after taking a hit near the left side of his neck. He walked to the sideline and later jogged to the tunnel, but didn't return to the field with his teammates at the start of the third quarter before being ruled out for the game.

    Now, the Panthers will have to wait to find out Kuechly's status for Week 7 trip to Chicago.

    "All I can tell you is he's in the protocol," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, adding, "I don't know anything other than that."

    It marks the third straight year the former Associated Press NFL defensive player of the year has dealt with concussion issues, which have cost him nine games over the past two seasons. Additionally, it followed the scary visual from last season when Kuechly was carted off the field while sobbing uncontrollably.

    2016 Getty Images

    (2016 season)

    This play seemed far more routine, with Kuechly going low as he took a hit from offensive lineman Brandon Brooks on a run by LeGarrette Blount.

    Brooks' left arm and shoulder collided with Kuechly near his left shoulder and helmet as he went to the ground. Moments later, Kuechly paused to squat down on the field with 5:19 left in the second quarter, then walked to the sideline for trainers to test the range of motion in his neck before he jogged into the locker-room tunnel.

    [IMAGES: Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers]

    "Last year was a little scarier," Panthers cornerback James Bradberry said. "This year I had just seen Luke walking away. It looked like he had full consciousness. I figured it was his shoulder or something. I wasn't sure."

    Instead, Kuechly didn't join the team for the second half and was ruled out in the third quarter.

    "I'm sure that the air kind of went out of the building," Bradberry said.



    Philadelphia took advantage, scoring all three of its touchdowns after Kuechly's exit - the first coming five plays after his injury. As Eagles coach Doug Pederson put it: "It can change for us on offense without him in there."

    Now, the Panthers face the uncertainty of how long Kuechly could be out. He missed three games with a concussion in 2015, then went on to miss six games after last year's concussion. In that case, Kuechly was in the protocol for three games, then was cleared to return, but Rivera held him out as the Panthers closed a playoff-less season.

    [PAST COVERAGE: Panthers' Luke Kuechly suffers concussion, ESPN source says]

    [9 Investigates: Charlotte doctor claims treatment headed toward concussion cure]

    "We care about Luke as a person," Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "I love Luke the player and I love Luke as a person. We definitely are concerned about that. We're definitely concerned about his health. Hopefully, it's not that bad. Hopefully, he can be back with us. We don't know, so we'll see."

    Channel 9 asked physical therapist Chris Stulginsky, at Ayrsley Town Rehabilitation, just how many concussions are too many.

    "That's really tough to say, from the standpoint of so many people respond differently,” Stulginsky said.

    Kuechly is just 26 years old, so fans are questioning whether it's worth risking even more injuries.

    "If it is that serious to a degree, that's all up to him," fan Vinson Garmon said.

    "I don't know if it's worth it,” Stulginsky said. “That's a call that every individual has to make."

    Kuechly has to pass a series of tests before his doctors will consider letting him back on the field.

    In November, Channel 9 reported on a possible groundbreaking new treatment in Charlotte that's trying to reverse the damage from concussions.

    In our investigation, we discovered the treatment sends the brain a better pattern to imitate, and that helps players overcome problems such as confusion, depression and rage.

    Some of the athletes have reported incredible results.

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