Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson’s sprained knee leaves status uncertain

jjones@charlotteobserver.comNovember 19, 2013 

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Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is helped off the field by team personnel after being injured during third quarter action vs the New England Patriots on Monday. An MRI on Tuesday diagnosed the injury as a sprained knee.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

An MRI done Tuesday on Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson’s right knee showed a sprain of his medial collateral ligament, according to a source, and he could miss Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Johnson was injured in the third quarter of Carolina’s 24-20 victory Monday night against the New England Patriots. He was carted to the locker room but would later return to the game for the final drive.

Johnson suffered the injury when he was leg-whipped by Patriots offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. Cannon was not penalized for the play, and Johnson said after the game Cannon apologized to him.

“That’s a disappointing play,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I’m pretty adamant about it because it happened to me when I played. And I actually fractured my leg and sprained my anterior cruciate. So whenever I see one of those, it really disappoints me. I know the league is aware of it, mostly because everyone in America saw it last night. So the league will handle that situation.”

Johnson was back on the sideline during the next Patriots possession, but he didn’t go back in until the final minute. He pleaded with his coaches to let him test his knee, but Rivera wanted to err on the side of caution before finally relenting.

“They weren’t going to put me in, but I said I had to go out there,” Johnson said after the game. “I told coach just let me test it out, and I just got out there and tried to push the pocket and try to get Tom Brady.

“I felt OK. I couldn’t turn the edge like I wanted to, but I was just trying to push the pocket.”

Backup ends Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton will contend for starting duties this week if Johnson is unable to play Sunday. But they’ll have to shore up their shortcomings from the second half, when Johnson was out.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott expressed disappointment in the defense’s play in the third quarter, when Brady passed for an early touchdown and had 12 straight completions.

“I think Charles’ going down, because he means a lot to that group, I think it took a little bit of the wind out of our sails,” Rivera said. “Young guys can’t let that happen. They’ve got to pick up the slack.”

Running troubles: Take away Cam Newton’s seven carries for 62 yards Monday, and the Panthers’ backfield accounted for 41 yards on 16 carries.

That is the lowest output by Carolina’s running backs since DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart combined for 25 rushing yards in Week 5 last season against Seattle.

But Rivera wasn’t concerned with the low numbers from his backs. New England showed a lot of eight- and nine-man fronts, and that stymied the Carolina rushing attack, Rivera said.

“They did a nice job with that, they made it tough for us,” Rivera said. “We still rushed for 100 yards – the quarterback had a big part in that – but we tried to run the football, we tried to run it the way we wanted to run it. They had a plan, remember they had two weeks to prepare, and Coach (Bill) Belichick and his staff did a nice job preparing for us.”

Coaching honor: After Monday night’s win, Rivera’s name began creeping into a national conversation about his potential coach of the year candidacy.

Rivera’s 7-3 Panthers have already matched their win total from last year and seem poised to challenge the Saints for the NFC South title. But when asked if he cared about talk of the award, Rivera began shaking his head.

“No,” he said. “What I do care about, again, is Miami.”

Through Week 11 of the NFL season, Rivera would be on a short list of candidates for the award. Kansas City’s Andy Reid is the likely front-runner after having turned the two-win Chiefs into a 9-1 team in his first season as coach. With a strong late-season push, Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly could contend for the award as well.

Broadcast team: The Panthers will go a second week without their good-luck charm.

Chris Myers and Tim Ryan will be on the call for FOX’s broadcast of the Panthers’ game at Miami. That means color analyst Brian Billick will not be part of the broadcast.

Carolina has won all four games Billick has called this year, and the former Super Bowl-winning coach jokingly took credit for Carolina’s win streak two weeks ago. It’s unclear if or when Billick will call another Panthers game this season.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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