CHARLOTTE – Chants of "LUUUUKE" filled Bank of America Stadium like we've heard for years. But this one was different.
This one was to salute linebacker Luke Kuechly as he was carted off the field late in the fourth quarter.
"That was a tough moment for the entire stadium," tight end Greg Olsen said.
Kuechly struggled to get to his feet after tackling Saints running back Tim Hightower. He stayed down as the training staff rushed onto the field.
By the time the cart was called, Kuechly was visibly distraught. Teammates gathered around him before he was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. Kuechly missed three games with a concussion early last season.
"He was just telling us to keep fighting," safety Kurt Coleman said before taking a long pause. "And that's Luke. Luke is a fighter, and we fight for each other. We're going to continue to fight for him."
Said defensive end Charles Johnson: "We rally around that guy. Luke is our leader. We just rallied behind him."
But seeing Kuechly in that state was difficult for everyone.
"It's tough. You could see it on his face that he was pretty visibly upset," Olsen said. "It's hard. It's one of your buddies, one of your guys pretty shaken up. It's tough. You just hope he's OK. That's really all we can do. The doctors will do what they feel is best."
Kuechly wasn't the only Panther forced to leave Thursday night's game due to injury.
Center Ryan Kalil's shoulder injury flared up and he exited the game in the second half. Kalil, who missed the previous two games, wore a brace on his shoulder in his return to action.
"He just couldn't go anymore," head coach Ron Rivera said. "His shoulder got sore so we took him out."
Defensive end Mario Addison, who recorded two of Carolina's three sacks, injured his foot in the second half and did not return. Same goes for nickel corner Leonard Johnson, who suffered a chest injury in the third quarter.
Carolina's 23-20 victory over New Orleans was much needed for a team desperate to stay in the playoff hunt. But it came at a cost.
"You are always concerned about your players," Rivera said. "That's the hard part. That's the hard part of this game."
View game action photos from Carolina's 23-20 victory over New Orleans.