CHARLOTTE -- Already beset by injuries, the Panthers were rocked Monday by the news that the right knee injury linebacker Thomas Davis suffered Sunday is what they feared most: a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Davis suffered the season-ending injury with 10:40 remaining in the 30-20 loss at New Orleans during a pass play from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas.
"He was backpedaling a little bit and went to break on the ball," linebacker
"It was unfortunate that he got hurt and it was unfortunate he got hurt in the middle of that play," head coach John Fox said less than two hours before the extent of Davis' injury was announced. "But he's a tough guy, a tough-minded guy, and whatever the extent of the injury is I know he'll deal with it in the right manner."
Davis had suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament to the same knee in training camp, but recovered in time to start the regular season. He ranks second on the Panthers with 69 total tackles -- 52 of them solo -- in spite of missing the Week 7 loss to Buffalo with a hamstring injury incurred during practice that week. He opened the season with 18 tackles against Philadelphia and 14 stops in Atlanta.
"It's just unfortunate. He's having a great season. Pro Bowl numbers," middle linebacker
Numbers only tell part of the story of how well Davis had fit into defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' scheme. Weakside linebackers have historically flourished in permutations of the Tampa Two -- most prominently Derrick Brooks in Tampa Bay and Lance Briggs in Chicago -- and Davis appeared to be capitalizing brilliantly, working his way into the league's elite at the position.
"I haven't seen a (weakside linebacker) like him -- on any team I've played on or another team," Diggs said. "Just flat-out crazy talent, athleticism that you can work all offseason to try to get -- and never get it."
It took Davis four and a half seasons to reach this point, a stretch that included time at safety and strongside linebacker before settling on the weak side last year.
"He's become a lot smarter player on Sundays," defensive tackle
"We expect Landon to come in and do a great job again," Lewis said. "He's not Thomas by any stretch of the imagination, but he's as good as Landon can be -- and we can win with that."
"If I end up going in to replace T.D., that's obviously big shoes to fill," Johnson said. "I've just got to go out there, practice and prepare as much as I can and do my best when I'm out there."
Johnson started at all three 4-3 linebacker slots during five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-07 but said he felt most comfortable on the weak side.
"It's what I played the most coming up from high school," Johnson said. "I always played outside linebacker, most often the 'will' until injuries in Cincinnati forced me into playing the 'mike.' When it comes down to it, linebacker is linebacker. The reads are a little bit different, but it's still running, hitting and trying to get to the ball."
"We have good guys in Landon and James (Anderson) to step up and fill the role," Lewis said. "They don't have the speed that T.D. has, but we expect them to be in there and be solid, pick it up and go."
Davis' injury adds to a lengthening list that includes wide receiver
The Panthers already have five players on injured reserve, most notably quarterback
"It's the way the game goes. Every year you lose guys that are key to your success," Lewis said. "That's where other guys have to come in and step up and pick up the slack."