Kuechly takes tackle title in stride

CHARLOTTE – For a guy who truly doesn't care about individual accolades or statistics, linebacker Luke Kuechly certainly has his share of both.

"It's cool I guess, having the most tackles in the NFL," Kuechly said. "I guess that's a cool deal, but it's not like I'm scrolling on my phone to make sure I got credit for all my tackles."

For the second time in his three-year career, Kuechly led the NFL in tackles based on press box statistics during the 2014 regular season. The one year he didn't win the tackle title, in 2013, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Kuechly's 473 tackles since the beginning of his rookie season in 2012 are 44 more than anyone else. Based on coaches' film review, he has 547 tackles.

But especially with an NFC Wild Card game against the Arizona Cardinals looming, those numbers don't carry as much weight to Kuechly as they might to others.

"Obviously it's great and everything, but that's not necessarily a goal I have going into the season," Kuechly said. "You want to have as many tackles as you can as long as you're helping the team. But if I have 25 tackles in a season and we win every game and I grade out on every play, I don't care.

"To me it's about doing my job, whatever that entails, and if the tackles come, great. If they don't, it's not a big deal."

The Panthers haven't won every game this season, but they're 0-0 again - just like the other 11 teams fortunate enough to earn a playoff berth.

"The playoffs are a different animal," Kuechly said. "Think about going from the preseason to the regular season – it's kind of what it's like. The jump to the regular season is a jump, and that's what it felt like from the regular season to the playoffs last year. But I think our guys are acclimated and ready to go."

Kuechly said he didn't feel like the moment was too big for the Panthers last season, when they were one-and-out in his playoff debut with a 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoff. So he certainly doesn't feel like the moment will be too much for the Panthers on Saturday, especially after the team had to win its final four games, including a winner-take-all contest in Week 17 at Atlanta, to qualify.

"After last year, the majority of the guys in this locker room now have playoff experience, and the Falcons game in essence was a playoff game," Kuechly said. "Both teams were in the same situation. It was kind of like the Wild Card before the Wild Card. So everybody got a little taste of it.

"We need to play our game, stay focused, stay confident, communicate well and don't be afraid to make a play. That's what the playoffs are about – the team that makes the most plays usually wins."

Kuechly, based on his numbers, certainly knows how to make a play. He can't wait for the chance to do just that against the Cardinals on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.

"I'm excited to be playing at home in front of our fans," he said. "It's a different energy playing at home. I'm excited about playing and trying to keep the momentum going."

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