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Panthers' Luke Kuechly leaves game, enters concussion protocol

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly left Thursday night's 28-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first half and was placed in the concussion protocol.

The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who has missed multiple games each of the past two seasons after suffering a concussion, came out after running into a Philadelphia offensive lineman charging up the middle on a second-and-4 play from the Carolina 6. He took a hard shot to his left shoulder, then went awkwardly to the ground.

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said he talked to Kuechly on Friday morning and "he's perfectly fine in the conversation he and I had."

"It's always encouraging, not just from a standpoint of Luke getting back on the field, but with his health," Wilks added. "It's good to know he was feeling a lot better today, in good spirits, and being his old self. I'm excited about that."

This is no indication, however, that Kuechly isn't still having symptoms of a concussion.

Kuechly grabbed his shoulder as he ran off the field for a key third-down play. After a few minutes with team trainer Ryan Vermillion and the team doctor, he jogged to the locker room.

He didn't return for the start of the second half as the team officially said the Pro Bowl player was being evaluated for a concussion.

Many of the Carolina players weren't aware Kuechly was in the protocol until after the game. Quarterback Cam Newton said he played most of the game not knowing Kuechly was out.

"We need Luke,'' Newton said.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short said he was praying for Kuechly.

"Hopefully, it's nothing too bad, he'll get some rest and be back in no time,'' he said

It wasn't nearly as dramatic as last season, when Kuechly was carted off the field in tears in a prime-time game against the New Orleans Saints after suffering his second concussion in two seasons.

Kuechly missed three games in the 2015 season after suffering a concussion in the opener at Jacksonville. He was in the concussion protocol for three games last season after the Saints game and was held out the final three games as a precaution with Carolina out of playoff contention.

On Friday, coach Ron Rivera did not speculate on any concerns over this being the third concussion for Kuechly.

"I have no idea," he said. "I have not talked with the doctors. I have not talked with Luke about this. I will eventually, but we're going to wait till he's no longer in the protocol before I say anything about this."

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