CHARLOTTE — A glance at the stat sheet suggests Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly had the worst game of his 22-game NFL career Sunday against St. Louis.
Last year’s tackles leader and the reigning defensive rookie of the year, Kuechly had three tackles, zero sacks and one pass defensed.
Of course, the game was more than numbers. And Monday, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott praised his middle linebacker’s play, saying the Rams’ offensewas so occupied with not getting beaten by Kuechly that it opened opportunities for other players.
Early in the game, linebackers coach Al Holcomb noticed the St. Louis offensive linemen were getting to the second level of the defense quicker than what the defensive coaching staff had seen on tape.
“It’s like if we’re on a tandem or combo block,” McDermott said Monday, “and one of us has to get to the second level to block a guy, they’re going fast right now as opposed to waiting, and then trying to make a one-on-one block at the first level. And that’s where we were winning” Sunday.
Six Panthers had more tackles than Kuechly during Sunday’s 30-15 win, including six by defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and four from defensive end Greg Hardy. The extra attention the Rams paid to Kuechly – McDermott said it was the most attention he has seen Kuechly get during his pro career – freed other players to make plays.
“All he cares about is winning, and he’s such a class act and a professional,” McDermott said. “As long as he’s doing his job, which he was, that’s all he cares about. He’s not into stats and numbers. That’s why he’s such a joy to be around.”
Clean hits: Carolina coach Ron Rivera said hits to Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton were clean, legal hits.
Carolina safety Mike Mitchell pushed Bradford out of bounds on a scramble during the fourth quarter. Bradford fell to the ground and tore his ACL, an MRI confirmed Monday. There was no penalty for Mitchell on the play.
“No there wasn’t” anything dirty, Rivera said. “I hope everyone understands we’re all playing hard, things are starting to happen and sometimes something bad happens, and you don’t want to see anything like that happen.”
While Bradford was out for the rest of the game, and subsequently the season, Newton missed one official snap after he was hit by St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn during the third quarter.
Newton handed the ball off to DeAngelo Williams and promptly was tackled by Quinn, who came from Newton’s blind side.
“It was a clean hit,” Rivera said. “I went out and asked for the explanation. Based on the rule and the way the rule is, that was a clean hit. He actually took less than a step to get to Cam when he hit him.”
Stewart update: The Panthers’ short turnaround with a game Thursday night at Tampa Bay will factor into running back Jonathan Stewart’s availability this week.
Rivera said Stewart is on track to practice Tuesday for the first time during the regular season, but there’s still some caution on when he’ll be ready for live action.
“We’ll have to see,” said Rivera, not ruling out Stewart for Thursday. “He had a really good week last week, but again we’re going to go through the whole procedure and make sure we’re really doing things right with him after each day.”
Stewart had offseason ankle surgery, and pain in his right ankle forced him onto the physically unable to perform list this year. He has 21 days from his first practice to be activated by the team.
Last week, Rivera indicated Stewart could be ready for the Nov.3 contest against Atlanta.
Roster moves: General manager Dave Gettleman continues to churn the bottom of the 53-man roster, claiming rookie wideout Tavarres King off waivers from the Broncos.
To make room for King, the Panthers terminated the contract of cornerback D.J. Moore, who has been out for more than a month with a sprained knee. Moore, a native of Spartanburg, signed a one-year deal worth $715,000 during the offseason after spending his first four seasons with the Bears.
King, a fifth-round pick from Georgia, had five catches for 64 yards during the preseason, but he had not played during the regular season.
The Panthers also released linebacker Jeff Tarpinian from the practice squad and signed offensive tackle Andrew McDonald, who was a rookie free agent with Miami in 2012. Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.
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