CHARLOTTE — For the second week in a row, the Panthers appear to have lost one of their key pieces on defense to a serious injury.
Linebacker and team captain Shaq Thompson left in the first quarter with what head coach Frank Reich called a “significant” ankle injury.
“Probably going to miss some extended time,” Reich said. “But we need some further evaluation tomorrow with the doc.”
Thompson was injured when Saints left tackle Trevor Penning fell across his leg after a play. He immediately went down, and the players around him quickly dropped to one knee. He was loaded onto a cart to be taken to the X-ray room, and the entire roster left the bench to gather around him.
“There’s no doubt who the leader is on this team,” defensive tackle Derrick Brown said. “And I think you saw that, and you know, for him to go down to hurt everybody.”
That made it a difficult one for his teammates to process. The 2015 first-round pick was voted a team captain for the fourth year, and that leadership will be difficult to replace.
“It’s always tough to see your brothers go down to injury; it just sucks, man,” cornerback Donte Jackson said. “That’s the part of the game, you know. But you know, Shaq is one of those guys that he wouldn’t want us to hold our head; he would want us to just go harder. But you definitely hate to see it for somebody like Shaq, man, such a good guy, such a great professional, such a person that, you know, that does everything right. You know what I’m saying? So it sucks.
“We just keep working, just keep working. Just do what he would want us to do, and that’s keep working. Let’s go harder for real. He’s a leader, and if he was out here, he’d be doing the same thing. All we can do is band together and keep advancing and keep progressing. Because we got a good thing going, and he would want us to keep this s— going.”
In the short term, his spot was filled by Kamu Grugier-Hill, one of the stars of training camp and a solid defensive player in his own right.
“Shaq is the general, right?” Grugier-Hill said. “My whole purpose, coming into this year, I need to get Shaq ready every game, right? And he’s helped me tremendously grow as a linebacker. So, I mean, I’m just, I’m hurting for him right now. . . .
“We just came in, and we just went up to him and, you know, told him we loved him and we were there for him, and he was just like, man, just go win, do you guys’ thing. So, kind of upset we couldn’t do that for him.”
Coming a week after watching cornerback Jaycee Horn leave with a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve, the mood was downcast because of the cumulative toll of losing two key leaders. They’re two games into a long season, but it was clear in a quiet and quickly cleared locker room that they understood how difficult this one could be to overcome.
“Both of those guys are star players, you know, they make plays, and Shaq, Shaq really is the motor to the defense in a way where he controls everything,” outside linebacker Brian Burns said. “So his presence is definitely going to be felt now that he’s out.
“But, you know, like I said, it’s a business. I mean, this is hard; this is the game we play, and stuff happens, you know, so you’ve got to keep going.”
Injuries happen in the NFL. That’s true. The human beings attached to those entries in the report make these particular two hard to swallow. Asked how they’d respond to Thompson’s absence, Brown just shook his head and offered all he could think of at the moment.
“Love on him, man,” Brown said. “I mean, it’s a tough one. You love on them, and you know, keep playing for them as a team.
“It sucks, man. He’s our leader, and for him to go down, man, . . . We’re going to keep loving on him and figure out what’s wrong with him and go back to work tomorrow and try to win for him.”
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