By Ted Fleming
Just when they might have started feeling good about themselves, the Panthers have lost yet another starter to injured reserve while their number one running back could miss a game or more after arguably their best game of the season.
In the eight-point win over the Eagles, defensive tackle Ron Edwards dislocated his elbow and was placed on IR ending his season while Jonathan Stewart suffered what is being called a high ankle sprain, an injury that generally does not heal up in days but more like weeks.
Edwards has played in every game this season after coming to Charlotte from Buffalo as a free agent and was on the way to his best season as a pro with 40 tackles, a forced fumble and five sacks. He had just 5.5 sacks in his previous seven seasons. Stewart was given the starting job a few weeks ago and while he was averaging a career low 3.6 yards a carry, he was just over nine yards a catch coming out of the backfield.
To take Edwards’ spot on the roster the Panthers signed DT Frank Kearse off the practice squad. He has seen some action this year appearing in three games but head coach Ron Rivera has not made a decision who will step in as starter.
“Ron’s been very stout for us at the point of attack,” Rivera said on Monday. “He did a nice job allowing the linebackers to run so it’s next guy up whether it be Sione (Fua), Andre Neblett or Frank Kearse. But one of those guys will have to step up and fill that role as a space heater.” Practice this week will dictate who gets the nod. If Stewart cannot go against the Chiefs on Sunday, DeAngelo Williams will step in.
The accolades are coming in from all corners of the football world on the play of quarterback Cam Newton in his first go at Monday Night Football. As bad as their record is, the Eagles gave the 23-year-old all sorts of different looks and his head coach was one of the first to target him with the appropriate praise.
“He’s getting comfortable again,” he said. “I think he is right where a second year quarterback should be.”
Rivera said he began taking some of the load off Newton weeks ago and in his last four games he has thrown just two interceptions, both coming in the loss to the Redskins, completing 68 passes in 116 attempts for a nice round 1,000 yards. In three of those four contests his passer rating was above 95 and after throwing two more touchdowns, he now has more of them than INTs (11 to 10) for the first time this year.
Newton’s overall numbers might be down from his amazing rookie campaign although his QBR is nearly identical to his amazing rookie campaign and he is averaging more yards per pass than a year ago.
At one point the Panthers were looking like they would be on their way to another top-5 draft pick, but with five games left with the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders still to play, it now looks possible to close out the season on a high note even if they still have to face divisional foes, the Falcons and Saints.
There was a lot of chatter on Monday’s ESPN telecast regarding the job status of Ron Rivera and Eagles head coach Andy Reid although the Panthers’ win could go a long way toward Rivera getting another year at the helm.
While some would maintain that his team could not put away an opponent late in games, others could contend the Panthers are closer to being a winning franchise than their current record indicates. The latter seems to be closer to the truth because this was not a team that was going through the motions at Lincoln Financial Field like the home team was.
While that may not count for much when a new general manager is eventually hired, it should not go unnoticed by owner Jerry Richardson who has to believe in his heart that changing directions – again – is not something fans might be willing to buy – again.
Rivera has been calm throughout the 2012 ordeal and the team reflects that demeanor. Newton’s few weeks of odd press conferences notwithstanding, the Panthers, as a whole, have tried to stay positive in the face of mounting injuries and deflating losses.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.