Davis finally getting attention he deserves

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
8:22
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No disrespect to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and all he did last season after returning from a career-threatening neck injury. Nothing against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for rushing for more than 2,000 yards less than a year after major knee surgery.

But where was the love for Thomas Davis?

The Carolina Panthers linebacker came back from his third torn anterior crucial ligament on his right knee -- something no player in NFL history had done before -- to finish second on the team with 105 tackles and a career-best 10 tackles for loss.

But he got no mention for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award, won by Manning. One website went 15 players deep for the honor without mentioning him.

[+] EnlargeThomas Davis
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneAfter coming back from his third ACL tear, Thomas Davis has earned notice for his play, including being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
A lot of it had to do with Manning and Peterson playing for playoff teams at higher-profile positions. Davis played for a Carolina team that began the season 1-6 and finished 7-9.

But that's just an excuse.

So it was good to see Davis get at least some recognition on Wednesday as the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week after his nine-tackle, two-sack performance against Minnesota. At least the voters didn't overlook that because the Panthers are 2-3.

For that, Thomas, who has been overlooked for Pro Bowl consideration and awards before, is thankful.

"Without a doubt," said Davis, who helped hold Peterson to a season-low 62 yards rushing on Sunday. "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. Just to go out and have a day like Sunday meant a lot to me."

Thomas, by the way, still believes he should have been considered for the 2012 comeback award. It's shameful that he wasn't.

"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.

"But just knowing what I had to go through, what I had to overcome, I feel I definitely should have been in the running for it."

What Davis did was nothing short of miraculous. He contemplated retirement after tearing his ACL for the third straight year two games into the 2011 season. He might have, too, had Carolina owner Jerry Richardson not said he'd give the former Georgia star another chance.

So Davis began the comeback trail. He even restructured his contract to save the team $3.8 million in cap space by agreeing to play for the NFL veteran minimum in 2012.

"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."

Thanks goodness he ignored it all.

"I love this game," Davis said. "I wasn't ready to be done. I still felt I had a lot left to offer, and they gave me an opportunity, man, and I took advantage of it."

Now the Panthers are taking advantage of Davis' passion and skills, which he insists are as good as ever. Sean McDermott, the coordinator of the league's third-ranked defense, says that what he does scheme-wise begins with Davis. Quarterback Cam Newton couldn't talk enough about the inspiration Davis has been for the entire team, not only through his comeback but his leadership in practice.

And left guard Travelle Wharton, who has come back from two knee injuries, can't imagine what Davis went through to return to his current level of excellence.

Few can.

In 2010, a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine said only 63 percent of all NFL athletes who had an ACL reconstruction returned to play another game. And two years after ACL surgery, about 55 percent of NFL players no longer are playing in the league.

Dr. James Andrews, one of the country's leading authorities on knee injuries, said earlier this season that ACL injuries still are synonymous with the "end of a career." He also said there are "superhuman" athletes who recover from an ACL injury and function at a high level.

That makes Thomas super-, super-, superhuman.

Maybe now he'll start getting recognized more for it.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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