Newton: Panthers should sit Kuechly, not jeopardize future

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton said it makes no sense for the Panthers to play three-time All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly the remainder of the season following his second concussion in two years.

Newton said with Carolina's chances of making the playoffs being ''minimal,'' Kuechly should to rest and prepare for future seasons when the team has a realistic chance to make the postseason. The Panthers (6-8) host the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday and close the regular season at Tampa Bay on Jan. 1.

''Luke is a person that could potentially to be the greatest linebacker that has ever played - straight up,'' Newton said. ''... I don't think, for me, I would want to jeopardize that for a long, long-term issue just to bring him back.''

Newton and Kuechly are co-captains.

The 25-year-old Kuechly, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and four-time Pro Bowl selection, has missed Carolina's last four games due to the concussion he suffered on Nov. 17.

He has had two concussions in the last two seasons, causing him to miss seven games in all.

''The long term goal for this team is to be in the playoffs and play for Super Bowls,'' Newton said. ''... We want him to get back to 100 percent. We want him to be back out there, but at the end of the day if he's not ready to be back out there he has to take his time.''

Newton suffered a concussion earlier this season in a 48-33 loss to the Falcons. He missed the following week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It appears coach Ron Rivera is leaning toward holding Kuechly out for the final two games.

Kuechly was cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol last week, but Rivera decided to deactivate his start linebacker for the nationally televised game against the Washington Redskins. Rivera said this week he needs to make the right decision.

Kuechly told reporters on Wednesday that he wants to play, although he knows the decision is ultimately up to Rivera and the team's doctors.

''I'm crossing my fingers every week that they're going to give me the thumbs up to go,'' Kuechly said. ''But those guys have a good plan in place of what they want to do and what's best for the team. I'm going to prepare like I'm playing, I'm going to make sure I can be ready to go, but we'll see what happens moving forward with it.''

Kuechly participated in all of practice again Thursday.

Newton said the one thing he learned from his concussion is that you have to be patient.

He also pointed to Panthers left tackle Michael Oher, who was placed on injured reserve midway through the season because of a lingering concussion.

''You can't rush it,'' Newton said. ''.... It's not like an ankle sprain or a broken rib of a shoulder issue. This is the something the NFL is saying they are serious about. It's a serious issue.''

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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