Panthers’ Johnson injures knee but returns later
Charles Johnson writhed in pain on the ground in the third quarter beating the field at Bank of America Stadium.
Johnson had just been leg whipped in his right knee by New England right tackle Marcus Cannon and he couldn’t lie still on the ground as trainers ran out to him and his fellow teammates took a knee around him.
He looked like he’d come back on the ensuing series, but instead Johnson saved it for the final series.
Johnson would be carted off to the locker room after the play, which did not draw a flag, but he would return still in his pads during Carolina’s offensive possession.
He jumped up and down to test the knee, then went to the exercise bike while head trainer Ryan Vermillion retrieved Johnson’s helmet.
Thanks in part to the offense’s eight-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 4 minutes and 29 seconds, Johnson was able to rest up on the sideline. But he never threatened to return, and the Panthers went with undrafted rookie Wes Horton at the defensive end position opposite Greg Hardy.
On Stevan Ridley’s fourth-quarter touchdown, Greg Hardy limped off the field and appeared to be favoring his right knee. He would return in the following series.
With the Patriots needing a touchdown on a final-minute drive, Johnson pressured Tom Brady on a second-down throw that fell incomplete.
Gronkowski check: The Panthers held Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in check for the first half. Gronkowski, who had 2,117 receiving yards in 2011 and 2012, missed six games this season with injuries, and Ron Rivera admitted last week Gronkowski would be a difficult matchup for the Panthers.
But he caught just one ball for 14 yards in the first half. That came on a third-and-22 from the Carolina 38-yard line that helped put the Patriots in field-goal range for their first and only score of the half.
Tom Brady would find Gronkowski with more frequency in the second half. He hauled in four catches for 65 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. His 23-yard catch in the final drive of the game extended the Patriots’ drive.
Panthers’ inactives: Running back Kenjon Barner and defensive end Frank Alexander highlight the healthy inactives for the Panthers' Monday night game against the Patriots, though neither one will come as a surprise.
Barner has one rush and two catches this season for Carolina, and as running back Jonathan Stewart continues to get healthy after being on the physically unable to perform list, Barner's snaps will get squeezed out.
With the Panthers feeling good about their defensive line rotation, Alexander will be inactive for his third game this season.
Tight end Ben Hartsock, LB Chase Blackburn and RG Chris Scott were already listed as out. Rookie linebacker A.J. Klein will get the start at weakside linebacker while Nate Chandler will get his second straight start.
Also inactive for Carolina are wide receivers Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.
• New England won the coin toss, breaking the Panthers’ eight-game streak of winning the toss. The Patriots deferred to the second half.
• The Panthers decided not to wear black pants for the game. Carolina could have changed into all black for the night game but apparently decided against it.
• Carolina was flagged for 12 men on the field on the Patriots’ first drive of the second half. Cornerback Drayton Florence lightly jogged off the field instead of sprinting and Brady snapped the ball quickly to get the flag.
• Often times in the first half, Tom Brady would find the receiver matched up against undrafted rookie cornerback Melvin White and exploit that match. White looked overwhelmed at times in the first half, and that continued into the second half.
• Steve Smith injured his chest at some point in the second quarter. He returned to the game in full pads and played in Carolina’s first offensive possession of the second half.
• In his post-game interview, Panthers coach Ron Rivera was extremely complimentary of the crowd and the support in the city. “This city wants it and we’ll give it to them,” he said.
By the numbers
14 Consecutive games the Panthers have not allowed a first-quarter touchdown.
24 Yards on Cam Newton’s second-quarter scramble, the longest rush of the season for the quarterback.
13 Consecutive completions by Brady from the second quarter through midway through the fourth.
125.4 Newton’s quarterback rating. He threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
62 Rushing yards for Newton, a team high.
74,225 Paid attendance at Bank of America Stadium for the game.
• “It wasn’t one of our better defensive efforts, but it was one of our better offensive efforts. Last week (against San Francisco) it was flip-flopped.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
• “They have the type of players that can win big games, so it was good for us to win like this.” – Rivera, on how it felt to beat Patriots.
• “I thought it was exactly what we had hoped for.” – Rivera, on the final play.
• “We’ll see.” – Rivera, on Charles Johnson’s status.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9