(Reuters) - Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is in the NFL's concussion protocol following the emotional scenes that emerged in Thursday night's game at Bank of America Stadium.

"He's in the protocol," coach Ron Rivera told a news conference on Friday.

Rivera provided no other details about the injury and no timeline over when he might return.

The protocol means a player has to be initially kept under observation. He must then pass a medical before he can return to action.

Kuechly, a triple Pro Bowler and the heart of the Panthers defense, was in tears and struggling to catch his breath following helmet-to-helmet contact as he made a tackle late in the 23-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

That moment was in stark contrast to a photo posted on Friday by team mate Thomas Davis from the Panthers locker room of him and Kuechly smiling and giving a thumbs-up gesture.

"Luke wanted me to let you guys know that he's doing fine and thanks for your prayers," read Davis' Instagram caption.

The 25-year-old Kuechly was also out for three games last season after suffering concussion.

Saints running back Tim Hightower came through the line on a four-yard run and lowered his helmet into Kuechly's facemask and chest.

The impact drove Kuechly back and fellow linebacker Davis' helmet struck the back of his helmet.

The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was carted off and concerned players from both teams approached to wish him well.

The Panthers, last year's Super Bowl runners-up who are 4-6 this season, have a West Coast trip coming up with games at Oakland on Nov. 27 and at Seattle on Dec. 4.

The team plans to stay in northern California for the week between games.

(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Tony Jimenez)