CHARLOTTE – The last few weeks have "easily" been the toughest of Thomas Davis' life.
While he was serving a four-game suspension to start the season, both Davis' parents faced severe medical issues.
His mother had two emergency surgeries. His father passed away following a heart attack.
The Pro Bowl linebacker who's battled back from three torn ACLs is as tough as they come, but he's never faced anything quite like this.
"None of that really compares to the last four weeks of what I've had to deal with," Davis said.
They say football is family, and that's the truth for a lot of players, especially in times of need. Davis, a team captain, has built tight bonds with a bunch of teammates. But he wasn't able to be around the team during his suspension, and that isolation was particularly challenging with all that was going on in Davis' personal life.
"To not really have the guys that you've depended on so much over the years to lean on," Davis said, "it makes it that much tougher."
The suspension ended Monday, and Davis returned to practice with the Panthers on Wednesday.
Football is a welcomed distraction in a time like this.
"It takes you away from some of the things you have going on in your life," Davis said of taking the field again. "It's a great feeling to be back amongst my teammates, my brothers."
Football brings joy to Davis. In turn, he brings energy and a fervor for trash-talking that's unique to No. 58.
When the topic turned to those things, the smile came back to Davis' face.
"Listen, it feels good to come in and talk-trash, in particular to No. 1," Davis said. "Watching his press conference talking about he'll run me over? Yeah, not built like that."
Davis was referencing these comments from Cam Newton after the quarterback turned heads with a bone-jarring block on a Giants linebacker Sunday: "I want to make sure TD saw it. We've got us a thing, and now he's back at practice and I can't wait to show him. Matter of fact, he's going to come watch film with us just so I can tell him that he's lucky I wear the red jersey in practice."
Davis acknowledged it was an impressive effort from his quarterback. "It was good. Don't let him know that I said that," Davis said. "He did a good job. But he never would have done me like that."
Then Davis turned his attention to another close friend, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who had everyone calling him "Big Dog" while Davis was away.
Davis, who is essentially an older brother to Munnerlyn, brought an end to that.
"I had to bring him back down to reality," Davis joked, "let him know he's still Little Cap."
Davis' presence in the locker room is a big part of what makes him so special. It's often said he's the heart of the team, and for good reason. He's the "head honcho" as linebacker Shaq Thompson so eloquently put it.
But he's also one of the most explosive linebackers in the NFL. And he brings a lot more than intangibles with his return.
"It's not just coming back and being some kind of emotional leader for this team," Davis said. "It's about coming out and being a playmaker. That's what I fully expect to do.
"I feel I can come back and contribute to us being even better."
With everything that's happened in the last month, and with his father's funeral set to take place Saturday, Davis knows Sunday's game at Washington is going to be an emotionally charged one.
The 14-year veteran has played in a Super Bowl and experienced tons of memorable moments during his playing career. But his anticipation for Sunday's game is unmatched.
"An all-time high, man," Davis said. "I just really want to get back to playing the game."
View photos of linebacker Thomas Davis as he practices for the first time since serving his four-game suspension.