CHARLOTTE — Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis says tearing the ACL in his right knee three times in three seasons hasn’t slowed him down.
And the numbers back him up.
Davis was named the NFC’s defensive player of the week after his nine-tackle, two-sack performance in Carolina’s 35-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday.
The 30-year-old Davis said the award served as consolation after missing out on being named the 2012 AP Comeback Player of the Year last season — an award he felt he should have been in the running for.
“Without a doubt,” Davis said. “Just knowing the work that I had to put in to get back to this point, when a lot of people thought it was over for me, when a lot of people told me I should retire. … To have a day like Sunday meant a lot to me.”
Davis became the first known player in NFL history to tear the ACL in his same knee three times and return to play in the league. He did so at a high level, finishing second on the Panthers in tackles in 2012 behind middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFL’s leading tackler last season.
Peyton Manning overcame neck surgery to have a spectacular season for the Broncos and beat out Vikings running Adrian Peterson, who returned from a torn ACL to rush 2,000 yards, to win AP Comeback Player of the Year.
Davis didn’t receive a vote.
“It was definitely disappointing,” Davis said. “I felt like I had put a lot of work to get back to that point. … Granted, the guys that actually were up for it, they were also in the running for the MVP of this league last year.
“Just knowing what I had to go through, what I had to overcome, I feel I definitely should have been in the running.”
“There were two other very good candidates,” Rivera said. “It just went to somebody else. But to me, Thomas epitomizes comeback, and those are the kind of people you pull for.”
Davis first tore his ACL midway through the 2009 season when his foot got caught in the turf at the Louisiana Superdome. It was his first of three surgeries in three seasons and endless hours of grueling rehabilitation.
He tore it again the following spring while back peddling during minicamp and then again in the second game of the 2011 season.
The third injury left Davis contemplating retirement for about 24 hours.
But after meeting with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, former general manager Marty Hurney and trainer Ryan Vermillion, Davis decided to give it one more shot.
He took a major pay cut and returned to the Panthers for a ninth season.
“I thought once I did it a third time, I thought that was it,” Davis said. “I had never heard of a guy coming back or even attempting to come back from a third ACL (tear) to the same knee. That went through my head. A lot of stuff went through my head.”
Davis, 30, is glad he returned.
He’s playing perhaps his best football of his career and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Davis’ vast knowledge of the defense has propelled him to new heights.
“He’s always learning,” McDermott said.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he has immense respect for Davis.
“Just going through everything that he’s been through, it’s just a credit to who he is as a person and a player,” Newton said.
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