CLEVELAND – If you want to see an example of true leadership in the NFL, look at Luke Kuechly's individual effort during Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the Browns.
The All-Pro linebacker carried Carolina's defense, at times singlehandedly.
Late in the first quarter he was all over a quick screen to wide receiver Rashard Higgins and was able to knock the ball free for a fumble that linebacker Thomas Davis recovered at the Cleveland 17-yard line. That set up Carolina’s first points off a turnover in five weeks.
He forced another fumble on the first play of the third quarter, this time stripping the ball from Jarvis Landry after reading the play-action and getting his hands on the elusive wideout behind the line of scrimmage. Davis was once again there for the recovery.
But the play that really spoke volumes was the 51-yard run by Landry early in the fourth quarter. Landry took the handoff and sliced through the middle of the field. Safety Mike Adams and cornerback Donte Jackson couldn’t get him on the ground and it looked like he was on his way to the end zone. But Kuechly, who at one point was almost 10 yards behind Landry, chased him down at the 4-yard line to prevent a touchdown.
He told reporters afterward he was simply running to the ball, which is what they've always been taught to do.
“Super Luke, man, giving max effort,” Davis said. “An All-Pro player giving everything that he has for the team. When you see things like that, young guys on this team, that should motivate you and encourage you to want to keep pounding and keep fighting.”
Kuechly finished with a game-high 11 tackles to go along with his two forced fumbles. The Panthers finished with their fifth consecutive loss.
Afterward, Kuechly was asked about the team’s fortitude as the losses have piled up with three games to go.
“That’s never going to be an issue with this team. Guys are going to play hard regardless of where the situation is with the season,” Kuechly said. “I don’t expect it to be an issue going forward.”
Not with Kuechly setting that kind of example.