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Chandler Zavala returns with team after neck injury

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DETROIT — They were immediately terrified and concerned. And then they realized it could have been many of them.

But then they heard Chandler Zavala talk to them and throw a thumbs-up in the air as he was carted off the field while strapped to a backboard with a neck injury, and they did the only thing they could do.

They went back to work.

The Panthers who were nearest to the rookie guard when he fell admitted a million thoughts raced through their mind as he lay motionless on the Ford Field turf.

"That's the scary part of what we do," center Bradley Bozeman said. "When a guy like Chandler goes down, and he's sitting there, they're taking the facemask off and getting the cart out, it's scary. But at the end of the day, we've got to move on; you've got to log back in.

"He was like, 'Hey, go get this,' so we knew he was good. But just trying to keep fighting and trying to just lock back into the moment. It's always a feeling of relief whenever they say something back, or they give the thumbs up or whatever it is. He did that, and you know, he was letting us know that he was cool."

Zavala was checked at a Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, all the tests came back well, and he joined the team at the airport and returned to Charlotte with his teammates.

Chandler Zavala injury

That was a relief for them and for everyone attached to them.

"Because that's scary. Everybody's wives and girlfriends and mothers and everyone else is watching that knowing that that could be somebody else, one of either their person or one of their close friends," Bozeman said. "There's a lot of compassion for each other. We put a lot of work in; we're brothers in this thing. "It's hard when one of your brothers goes down."

No one has more of a relationship with Zavala than left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, who started next to him at NC State. So he admitted those long seconds were difficult at a personal level, in addition to the professional one.

"Obviously, I've got a little bit more history with Big Chan than some of the other guys, so I mean, it just hit that much harder," Ekwonu said. "Obviously, it's encouraging he was able to speak on the cart, tell us to keep fighting, Keep Pounding, all that sort of stuff. That part was good to see, but you just never want to see a teammate go down like that.

"I mean, the game stops for nobody, waits for nobody. Once the whistle starts up again, you've got to refocus."

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In those moments, it wasn't just the offensive linemen who reacted emotionally. Outside linebacker Brian Burns also described the scene as "scary" and said hearing from Zavala and seeing him flash the thumbs-up before he was taken to the hospital was something they all needed.

"Because you never know like what's actually going on, and with the type of injuries that that's been happening in the past, you can only think the worst," Burns said. "So, I just tried to cover him with prayer, and I'm just glad to hear that he's OK. So I'm glad he did that."

After about a seven-minute break, the game resumed (with Cade Mays replacing him in the lineup) and obviously didn't go the way the Panthers were hoping. Still, head coach Frank Reich said he was grateful for the immediate medical care Zavala was able to get.

But like the rest of them, he admitted being frightened when Zavala didn't move at first.

"We get out there, and it didn't look like he was moving a lot, but a minute or so into it, I saw him move his arm. So I was hopeful there. And the medical team just did a good job, right?

"It's hard; sometimes you want to think the worst, but you really have to think the best. And I think guys have been around this league long enough to know that the medical teams do a great job. They're always going to be overcautious and protect for worst-case scenarios. So your heart goes out. You don't want it to be anything severe, but you also understand that we got the right medical people in attendance, and they're going to do a great job."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Detroit Lions in Week 5.

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