By Ted Fleming
When the Panthers host the Falcons this Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in the second and final meeting of the season, they will be without two of key players, running back Jonathan Stewart, who will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, and wide receiver Brandon LaFell with a turf toe. While Stewart was somewhat expected, head coach Ron Rivera said LaFell was “very” questionable.
Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, linebacker James Anderson and safety Charles Godfrey, all starters, are also listed as questionable, but should be available.
As was the case last week in Kansas City, DeAngelo Williams will step in for Stewart, who did not practice all week, and Rivera said that fullback Mike Tolbert will be more involved in the offense. The Panthers have made a commitment to the ground game in recent weeks with mixed results but clearly better than they were earlier in the season.
If LaFell is scratched, fourth-year wideout Louis Murphy will start opposite Steve Smith with Armanti Edwards moving in as the number three receiver while David Gettis will be active for just the second time this year since coming off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list a month ago.
With Edwards as the first receiver off the bench that would mean Armond Smith will be the kickoff returner. The 5-foot-9, 190 pound running back was signed off the practice squad and if he sees action it will be his first in a Panthers’ uniform. His previous NFL experience was with the Browns last year appearing in three games. He will wear uniform number 36.
The Falcons have just four players on the injury list and all designated as questionable. Safety William Moore and cornerback Asante Samuel did not practice all week while defensive tackle Peria Jerry and running back Michael Turner were limited the last three days.
Moore is coming off a spectacular game against the Saints where he had 11 tackles, nine solo, and had a pair of interceptions. He was hobbled by a hamstring and with the week off he should be available. Samuel is another story because he did not play against New Orleans and could be a game time decision. If he cannot go, Robert McClain is next man up. Peria has not played since Week 11 so third-year pro Corey Peters should get the nod.
Turner is having an off year with just 675 yards and a 3.8 average, however, he is still the Falcons only real threat on the ground. Jacquizz Rodgers (274 yards) and quarterback Matt Ryan (106) are not much of a threat and have only two touchdowns between them, five less than Turner, so if there is any way the 30-year old can go, he will.
The following is the injury report issued on Friday by the National Football League for the Falcons-Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sunday, December 9, 2012:
ATLANTA FALCONS, 11-1 (** denotes starter):
** RB Michael Turner (elbow), ** CB Asante Samuel (shoulder), ** S William Moore (hamstring), ** DT Peria Jerry (quadriceps)
CAROLINA PANTHERS 3-6 (** denotes starter):
** RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle)
** DT Dwan Edwards (wrist), ** LB James Anderson (back/eye), ** S Charles Godfrey (back), ** WR Brandon LaFell (turf toe), G Jeff Byers (back)
** TE Greg Olsen (back)
FOR REFERENCE –
Out: there is no chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Doubtful: a 25% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Questionable: a 50% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
Probable: a 75% chance the injured player will be medically cleared for the game
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.