The All-Iron Award is given annually by CBS broadcaster Phil Simms and serves as the MVP accolade for the network's Thanksgiving contest. Linebacker Luke Kuechly, quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and free safety Kurt Coleman were co-recipients of the honor.
Kuechly put forth his first career two-interception game and also his maiden NFL touchdown on his first pick of Tony Romo at AT&T Stadium. The interceptions occurred on back-to-back plays near the end of the second quarter. The Panthers' Twitter account showed off Kuechly's highlight-reel score:
Coleman set the tone with his own pick-six to open the scoring Thursday, and could have won the All-Iron Award on his own another day if not for Kuechly's additional takeaway.
Draft expert Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com thought back to evaluating Kuechly when he was coming out of Boston College:
Based on how Kuechly has fared to date in his NFL career, it's quite a travesty he fell as far as ninth overall in the 2012 draft. He sets the tone for what's been among the league's best defenses in recent years and is as valuable as anyone on this 11-0 Panthers team.
The offense didn't need to do a lot, but Newton converted several third downs as a passer and added a four-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Newton accounted for 183 yards through the air and 45 on the ground; Cotchery had a game-high 73 receiving yards on five receptions.
Impressive as it was for Carolina to win four games sans Kuechly earlier this season, the team is elevated when he's calling the defensive shots. The 24-year-old's understanding of passing-game concepts and unrivaled coverage skills give the Panthers an added dimension few other teams boast.
With players like Coleman and lockdown cornerback Josh Norman in the secondary and a ball hawk in Kuechly in the linebacker corps, opposing QBs have a nightmarish task trying to pass on the Panthers. That's been a big reason for Carolina's 2015 success and should persist as a huge strength for the Super Bowl contenders.
But credit also goes to Newton for his true dual-threat nature and his ability to make the most of a receiving corps not considered among the NFL's best. At age 33, Cotchery is bucking the odds by continuing to produce and encompassing the consistent effort the Panthers have put forth to remain perfect to date.