Pride in play as scuffling Panthers, Broncos tangle
For all the players who might not play for the Carolina Panthers when they take on the Denver Broncos this weekend, there’s a notable player who might be back.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, who has played in just three games this season, could be on the field again Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, N.C.
After an ankle injury earlier in the season, the All-Pro player has missed the past three games with a shoulder ailment. The Panthers were off last week, and now McCaffrey could return against the team his father, Ed McCaffrey, once played with, though he was limited in practice Wednesday because of quad soreness that has developed.
“Pretty surreal, in a way, to be playing against my dad’s former team,” McCaffrey said. “Kind of makes things go full circle.”
That might sound like a feel-good storyline as two teams with massive struggles during the past month try to get back on track.
The Panthers (4-8) have lost five of their last six games before last week’s open date.
“I know they’ll be excited to play,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said of his players. “To have such a young team to have to play 12 straight games, to finally have a chance to kind of catch their breath, heal up a little bit (is good for us).”
The Broncos (4-8) had a solid outing in last week’s 22-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they’ve dropped four of their past five games.
“We’ll learn from it and keep getting better and keep focusing on these little things that sometimes bite us in the butt,” Broncos quarterback Drew Lock said. “I’m just focused on winning games, regardless of how that is done.”
At least in Denver’s case, it has regular quarterbacks back in the mix after the impact of coronavirus protocols knocked all four signal-callers out of the lineup for its Nov. 29 game.
Carolina receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are among eight players added to the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list along with linebacker Shaq Thompson, a defensive leader. That puts their statuses in question for Sunday.
The Panthers had their facility shut down for the first two days of the week, per the NFL’s policies regarding the coronavirus.
“The one thing I know, teams have been through this intensive protocol and some of these challenges, and they’ve won,” Rhule said. “So it comes down to what you do on Sunday.”
However, cornerback Donte Jackson joined McCaffrey in returning to practice Wednesday after an injury.
By threatening to knock off the reigning Super Bowl champions last week, the Broncos might have discovered some of their potential, if it’s not too late.
“It’s something to build on,” Denver defensive end Shelby Harris said.
Denver isn’t at full strength, particularly after Wednesday’s announcement that cornerback A.J. Bouye is suspended for the rest of the season — and the first two games of the 2021 season — for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“It was a rough season for him, with the injuries interrupting his availability and his play, and now having to deal with the PED suspension,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said.
Among the players who won’t have a homecoming type of moment is Broncos rookie cornerback Essang Bassey, who started three games. He played for Wake Forest up the road in Winston-Salem, N.C., but he’s out for the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered against Kansas City.
Will Parks, who was recently signed off waivers, might take a spot in the Denver secondary.
“We don’t plan on playing him at corner unless we have an emergency,” Fangio said, figuring Parks will mainly be used as a safety in special packages.
The Panthers are touting safety Jeremy Chinn for rookie honors as he leads all first-year players in tackles (87). He’s coming off a historic game when he scored two touchdowns on as many snaps with a pair of fumbles returned for scores against the Minnesota Vikings. He also had a team-high 13 tackles in the game.
This is the second-to-last home game for Carolina, which is 2-4 at home.
–Field Level Media