Observation deck: Panthers-Jets

One of the nicest moments of the preseason came early in the Carolina Panthers’ 17-12 victory against the New York Jets on Sunday night.

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis sacked quarterback Mark Sanchez with one minute, 54 seconds left in the first quarter. It wasn’t the kind of jarring sack you’ll see on the highlights and it was in a meaningless preseason game. But this one was significant.

Consider it a strong sign that Davis has something left in the tank as he tries to make NFL history. Assuming Davis makes it to the regular season (and the sack was an indication that’s pretty much a certainty), he will become the first player in NFL history to make it back from three torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

If that happens, it will be a nice reflection on Carolina’s medical and training staff, but it will say even more about Davis. Coming back from one ACL is an accomplishment. Coming back three times takes a special person.

Davis, who had missed some preseason time with a calf injury, fits that description. I’ve covered him since he came into the NFL as a first-round pick in 2005 and the guy is a class act. Davis has worked hard and he deserves to make history.

I don’t know that Davis, who also showed signs he can still be a factor in pass coverage and against the run, ever will be the same player he was before the injuries started, but he’ll have a role. The indications I’ve gotten are that the Panthers plan is to start Jon Beason in the middle with James Anderson and rookie Luke Kuechly on the outside and use Davis as a situational role player in certain nickel packages. There also could be some situations where the Panthers go to a 3-4 defense and Davis would be used as the fourth linebacker.

Some other observations on the Panthers:

  • Captain Munnerlyn, who is fighting to keep his job as a starting cornerback, intercepted Sanchez late in the second quarter. Then again, Munnerlyn also dropped what should have been an easy interception a bit earlier and also was flagged for hands to the face on the same play.

  • At least for the moment, there’s some reason for concern. Running back Jonathan Stewart was carted off the field near the end of the first half with an apparent lower-leg injury. There was no immediate word on the extent of Stewart’s injury. If he’s going to miss any regular-season time, the Panthers have solid running back depth with DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. But the Panthers, who signed Stewart to a five-year contract extension a few weeks ago, appear to have big plans for a three-headed backfield. Tolbert also left the game and was seen on the sideline with ice on his knee. There was no immediate word from the team on Tolbert’s condition.

  • I continued to be impressed with Kuechly. He had a reputation for being a tackling machine in college and, so far, it looks like that will transfer over to the NFL. Kuechly seems to be near the ball on every play. He also looks pretty decent in pass coverage.

  • Quarterback Cam Newton had an unspectacular night. He completed six of 15 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown and also lost a fumble. I wouldn’t be too concerned about Newton’s performance. Newton had a few nice passes and also ran twice for 16 yards. Newton was without wide receiver Steve Smith, who is recovering from a foot infection, and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski obviously kept things pretty bland -- at least by his standards.

  • Carolina’s first-team defense wasn’t perfect, but it was very good, holding New York’s first-team offense to three field goals. That’s a whole lot better than last year, when Carolina’s defense wasn’t stopping much of anything.

  • Did you see that 43-yard catch by the backup tight end Gary Barnidge at the start of the fourth quarter? Who needs Jeremy Shockey? Barnidge also followed that up with a short touchdown catch.