GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly could face a fine after being ejected for making contact with an official late in the third quarter of Sunday's 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The reigning NFL defensive player of the year swung his arm as he was being restrained by back judge Steve Freeman with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Kuechly said he wasn't aware it was Freeman who had grabbed him from behind and that he was just trying to free himself from the situation.
"It's one of those situations where you don't know what it is,'' Kuechly said. "You just felt somebody grab you on the back. ... It's an emotional game, but you've got to walk away from the situation and you can't let that happen.''
Kuechly said he never got a chance to apologize because officials forced him to leave the field immediately.
"I didn't mean to do it,'' he said. "To tell you the truth, I didn't know who was grabbing me. I was trying to get out of there a little bit. You've just got to stay calm in those situations and just walk away and let it take care of itself.''
Kuechly said it wasn't out of frustration because the Panthers were trailing 35-3 at the time.
"Not frustration,'' he said. "Just somebody is grabbing you and you're trying to get away.''
Kuechly, who entered the game as the NFL leader in tackles, was caught in a pile trying to recover a fumble that was recovered by Green Bay. As he was getting up, Kuechly appeared to push back tackle David Bakhtiari.
When Freeman stepped in, Kuechly swung his arm again with the official behind him. Freeman backed away, threw the flag and ejected Kuechly.
It was the first time Kuechly has been ejected from an NFL game since being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Kuechly just reacted to somebody grabbing him by the neck and pulling him out of the pile "and then somebody grabbing him by the waist.
"The guy that grabbed him by the waist just happened to be the referee,'' Rivera said. "That is why he reacted. He thought another player was coming in to grab him, so, unfortunately, that is what happened."
Several players said Kuechly didn't deserve to be ejected. Quarterback Cam Newton called it a "wow'' moment because, emotionally, Kuechly is so even-keeled.
Free safety Thomas DeCoud said Kuechly shouldn't have been thrown because out there was no "malicious intent."
Outside linebacker Thomas Davis said he's seen "way worse things happen in a game and guys didn't get kicked out for it."