CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Luke Kuechly's record-setting effort in Sunday's clutch victory over the New Orleans Saints has earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.
His latest award-winning performance also could catapult him toward another award: NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"He most certainly is relevant, is part of the conversation," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It does catch people's attention, especially in a game of that magnitude."
Kuechly's reaction to the honor was a bit more low-key.
"Oh, cool," he said.
Kuechly compiled as many tackles Sunday - 24 - as anyone has since the NFL began tracking tackles as a press box statistic in 1994. David Harris also recorded 24 tackles for the New York Jets in 2007.
Coaches' review of game film credited Kuechly with 26 tackles, six more than the previous team record set by James Anderson in 2012.
"I've never been around an effort like that," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "Luke was quick to diagnose. It was outstanding preparation on his part."
Kuechly and defensive end Julius Peppers are the only Carolina defensive players to win the honor three times, and Kuechly is the first Panthers defensive player to win it twice in one season. He also was honored after Carolina's victory at San Francisco in Week 10.
"It starts with (linebackers coach) Al Holcomb. He did a good job of getting us ready to go this week, and he's done that every week this year," said Kuechly, who also intercepted a pass. "A lot of credit goes to him and to Coach McDermott for putting a game plan together that lets us play.
"And you can't forget about the guys up front. Without those guys, Thomas (Davis) and I don't run around like we did. They eat blocks, they play well in their gaps and they play strong. It's awesome to play with those guys."
Kuechly, who led the NFL with 164 tackles based on press box stats while winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, currently ranks third in the NFL with 146 tackles.
"When I was growing up in grade school and then high school and then Boston College, it was always about running to the football and playing hard every play," Kuechly said. "Grab cloth, and hopefully other guys show up."