CHARLOTTE - For the second consecutive week, the Panthers have lost a starting linebacker to a season-ending injury.
For the third consecutive season, Thomas Davis is the unfortunate victim.
Davis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the third time in less than two years in Sunday's 30-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers and was placed on injured reserve.
During pregame ceremonies, Davis passionately waved a Jon Beason jersey in honor of his fallen fellow linebacker, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the season opener.
Now Davis has joined him on the sideline.
"He trained so hard to come back, and everything was coming together. He was playing really well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It's kind of like Jon coming back last week (from a preseason injury) and really looking good and playing well. Then all of a sudden, something bad happens."
The Panthers wasted little time filling Davis' roster spot, claiming linebacker Jason Phillips off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens picked Phillips, a 6-1, 242-pounder, in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of Texas Christian. He spent his rookie season on IR and played in nine games last season, recording five tackles.
As big of a blow as Davis' injury is to the Panthers on the field, many of his teammates found it more devastating on a personal level. Davis already had the full respect of his teammates as a leader and stand-up guy even before he battled back from two torn ACLs. Originally injured Nov. 8, 2009, at New Orleans and then again during an organized team activity on June 8, 2010, Davis finally returned eight days ago at the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's terrible. Three times with the same ligament – that's just terrible luck," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "He's a guy that works so hard and has been on the straight and narrow, on and off the field. He's a team leader, a team captain. It's just bad, bad."
Davis led the team with seven tackles in the opener and added five more in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers before injuring the knee late in the third quarter. He made the initial stop on a screen pass to running back James Starks and was injured in the ensuing pileup.
Panthers athletic trainers came onto the field to help Davis, but he walked off under his own power. He missed one play before returning for one play, then he called it a day.
"He was walking around, and I asked him what had happened. He just thought he had tweaked it," Gross said. "It's a punch in the gut."
Davis, selected by Carolina in the first round of the 2005 draft from the University of Georgia, was still under contract for the 2011 season, but the Panthers still signed him to a five-year extension despite his recent injuries.
His teammates named him a team captain before the season opener.
"TD is a good guy, a leader on and off the field," second-year defensive end Eric Norwood said. "He holds you accountable, but he also can take constructive criticism as well. He's just an all-around good guy.
"It's hard to see a guy go down like that, especially a guy that goes so hard. He gives his all every play. Knowing him, he probably still wants to give it a shot. He'll bounce back. He'll be all right."
Hours before the Panthers claimed Phillips, Rivera said four linebackers already on the roster all would be considered for a starting role alongside James Anderson and Dan Connor.
Omar Gaither, easily the most experienced of the four, filled in for Davis on Sunday. Jordan Senn, Jason Williams and Thomas Williams also will get looks.
"We have four guys that we have confidence in," Rivera said. "It may be by committee, with one or two guys replacing him. We'll see how it goes."