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Linebacker duo reigns in rain

Posted Dec 22, 2013

CHARLOTTE – At times Sunday, a driving rain pelted the Bank of America Stadium turf. At times, it let up.

The Saints weren't as fortunate when it came to Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

The duo was relentless.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find guys that had higher production than we had today," Davis said. "We talked about it as a unit before the game that if it was going to happen, we were going to make it happen as a unit. We went out with that belief and played well."

Davis snared a key interception and piled up 14 tackles in Carolina's 17-13 triumph. That left him 10 tackles shy of Kuechly, whose 24 tackles tied for the most since the NFL began tracking tackles as a press box stat in 1994.

"We got the win, and that's honestly all that matters," said Kuechly, who also intercepted a pass. "You ask me or Thomas, and winning is all that matters."

Davis, Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy have all been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week this season. Sunday, all three produced player-of-the-week numbers. Hardy accounted for half of the Panthers' six sacks of Drew Brees, matching the most times Brees has ever been sacked in a game.

"Greg Hardy had an outstanding game," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I'm partial, but I think Thomas and Luke are one of the best one-two tandems in the league."

Even with a combined 38 tackles that thwarted many a Saints drive, the linebackers' most impactful play was Davis' interception.

With the Panthers trailing 6-0 late in the first half and the offense struggling, Davis leaped high to spear a Brees pass out of the air and give Carolina possession on the Saints' 43-yard line.

On the next play, running back DeAngelo Williams ripped through a hole in the middle and scored to give Carolina the halftime lead.

"That was a spark," Rivera said. "It was a good call by (defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott). I thought the execution was outstanding.

"I don't think Drew saw Thomas, and it worked to our benefit."

Brees also didn't appear to see Kuechly on his interception. On a third-and-10 play late in the third quarter, with the Panthers ahead 10-6, Kuechly made a sliding interception in front of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham near midfield.

"It all goes back to the defensive line pushing the pocket and getting in his face. It starts with those guys up front," Kuechly said. "I was like, ‘I'm going to roll back and see what happens.' And then it was like, ‘Oh, there's the ball.' My hands were kind of wet and the ball was slick, but I just kind of corralled it and held onto it."

Davis got his interception before the skies opened.

"Raining the way it did took away some of the things the Saints can do," Davis said. "It took away from their passing game, and it made a difference."

Kuechly agreed but offered a different reason as well. In addition to crediting the defensive line, McDermott and linebackers coach Al Holcomb for what he and Davis accomplished, Kuechly also credited the Panthers' fired-up, bundled-up fans.

"The rain got the crowd juiced up. They were excited for it," Kuechly said. "And when it's raining like that, it's tough to throw the ball. We were really able to play downhill."