ARLINGTON, Texas – In back-to-back plays, Luke Kuechly's game-changing ability was on display.
As the Cowboys found out on Thursday, the nice guy isn't so nice when you're trying to move the ball against him.
"A person who plays like that is not just a nice guy. Come on now," quarterback Cam Newton said. "He has the smile and the charisma – but he has like a demolition mentality. That's Luke, and we all love him."
The Panthers' superstar middle linebacker used his pre-snap awareness to set up his first act of Dallas demolition.
With 2:47 remaining in the second quarter and Carolina leading 13-3, quarterback Tony Romo spotted linebacker Thomas Davis showing blitz. Romo audibled, so Kuechly changed the defensive call (although in typical Luke fashion, he credited Davis for the suggestion).
Romo then tried to connect with wide receiver Terrance Williams, and Kuechly read it the whole way, picking off the pass easily and returning it 32 yards for his first career touchdown.
"Luke, man, he's the quarterback of the defense, and he sees that stuff," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "As D-linemen, we want to get pressure and let him roam, let him do his thing."
On the first play of the next Dallas drive, Romo tossed a deep pass for tight end Jason Witten down the seam. This time, the degree of difficulty was higher, as Kuechly ran stride-for-stride with Witten and made an over-the-shoulder catch for his second interception in as many plays.
"I put my hands up and caught it, and I was kind of surprised," Kuechly recalled. "I just started running."
Still a little winded from his previous interception, Kuechly was chased down at the Dallas 29-yard line after a 17-yard return.
"Yeah, I was getting tired," Kuechly admitted. "I was trying to run as fast I could, but I couldn't get too far on that one."
Kuechly won't be faulted for that. After all, he became with the first player with interceptions on back-to-back plays since 1997, which also happens to be the year Carolina last won a game in Dallas prior to Thursday's win on Thanksgiving.
"He's playing very well," head coach Ron Rivera said of Kuechly. "He's understanding what his opponent is trying to do. He's understanding and anticipating very well."
"He's a special player," said Davis, the other half of Carolina's dynamic linebacking duo. "A leader, a playmaker – that's who Luke is."