CHARLOTTE – The next time we'll see linebacker Thomas Davis in action during a game is the second weekend of October.
The starters don't typically play in the preseason finale, and Davis is suspended for the first four games of the regular season – plus Carolina has its bye in Week 4.
Hence why Davis played just two series against the Patriots on Friday night, recording two tackles. The rest of the starters carried on until halftime in the dress rehearsal that is the third preseason game.
"It's going to be tough for me," Davis said after Carolina's 25-14 victory, "but I'm excited to watch my guys compete.
"We're definitely in a good place defensively."
Davis, a three-time Pro Bowler, will be missed. He brings a lot to the team beyond his production. But the Panthers are in a good place as they prepare for the opener thanks to Shaq Thompson, a former first-round pick who has been waiting patiently for his chance to shine.
"Shaq's a stud. We've all known that, but when you've got Thomas in front of you it's tough," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "He's a luxury we've had for the last few years, but now he's actually going to have an opportunity to get out there and play some 'backer."
Thompson has been one of Carolina's standout performers throughout training camp and the preseason. He was at it again on Friday against the Patriots, notching a pair of tackles for loss and seven total stops.
He's made his presence felt in each of the three preseason games, starting with an athletic interception against the Bills and continuing with a number of disruptive plays in the backfield against Miami and New England.
"Everybody has always kind of wondered what Shaq is going to bring to the linebacker position," Kuechly said, "and everybody is starting to see it."
Will Thompson continue to be the playmaker he's been once the regular season starts with a visit from the Cowboys?
That's what the Panthers are counting on.
"TD is down, unfortunately, but no one is going to blink. Everybody expects Shaq to go in there and ball out," safety Mike Adams said. "There won't be any surprise. We know Shaq can play. And those TFLs – we're expecting plenty more of those."