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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said it isn't enough that he's coming off the most productive season of his nine-year NFL career after tearing the ACL in his right knee three times.
He wants more.
The 31-year-old Davis is still stinging from being passed over for his first Pro Bowl after posting a career-high 123 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for the league's No. 2-ranked defense.
Davis, entering his ninth season, said he's using the perceived snub as motivation.
"Obviously the league doesn't know about me yet," Davis said. "So my goal going into this season is to earn the respect of the league. I know that I have to be better than I was last year because obviously last year wasn't good enough."
With Davis anything seems possible.
He's the first player in NFL history to play in a game after suffering three torn ACLs in the same knee.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker for the Chicago Bears, has in the past become emotional when talking about Davis' never-dying determination.
"His story, to me, is amazing," Rivera said last year.
Davis is no stranger to snubs.
Despite his grueling physical and mental rehab from three surgeries, it was Peyton Manning who won the AP Comeback Player of the Year in 2012 after the future Hall of Fame quarterback had a stellar return to action in Denver following neck surgery.
Davis' teammates said it was even tougher watching him get passed over for the Pro Bowl last year by outside linebackers John Abraham from Arizona and Ahmad Brooks from San Francisco. Together, Abraham and Brooks had 32 fewer combined tackles than Davis. However, voters apparently went for their sack production — Abraham had 11.5 sacks and Brooks 8.5.
"He had a tremendous season, especially after all of the things he's been through," Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said of Davis. "To come back and put up a tremendous season, but also help us win 12 games, It's crazy to think that he didn't make it. But stranger things have happened in the NFL."
Said Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn: "In my opinion he was a snubbed."
Davis' injury problems began in 2009 when he tore his left ACL in a Week 8 game against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, ending his season. The following spring he re-tore the same ACL while back-peddling during practice, ending his 2010 season before it began. He returned in 2011, but tore it again two games into season sending him to injured reserve for the third straight year.
Davis contemplated retirement, but the Panthers restructured his contract rather than cutting him — giving him one last chance to make it back.
Both sides are glad they did.
What he's done since is nothing short of remarkable.
Davis has not only played in 31 of 32 games the past two seasons, but he's been a stalwart playing alongside middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, helping the Panthers go 12-4 and win the NFC South last season. Rivera last year boldly declared Davis and Kuechly the top linebacker tandem in the league.
Teammates say Davis seems more motivated than ever this year.
He's been a vocal presence eat training camp, often calling out his offensive teammates during practice and challenging them.
He's not afraid to talk off the field either.
The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in the franchise's 20-year history, but Davis boldly predicted guaranteed the team will end that drought this season.
As for his own accolades, Davis said, "I'm not going to say (last year) made me mad, but I was definitely disappointed feeling like I should have been on some of those lists and being selected for some of those honors," Davis said. "... It will be nice to be recognized for the individual stuff, but if at the end of the day if our team continues to win it will mean more to me than anything you receive individually,"
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL