Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart’s status will be a big storyline this week leading to wild-card game in New Orleans against the Saints, and the early signs seem promising.
Stewart was a late scratch in the regular-season finale at Atlanta after waking up with tightness in his back, and indicated after the game he would spend a good chunk of this week rehabbing it.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he’s not concerned about Stewart’s availability for the third matchup with the Saints this season.
“No, I think Stew will be fine,” Rivera said Monday. “He told me he’s feeling better already.”
Stewart tried unsuccessfully to loosen up his back in warmups Sunday. He was asked afterward if he would have played had it been a playoff game.
“Nah, I don’t think so. It was tough,” Stewart said. “So I’ve just got to work my way back.”
Stewart, 30, played in 15 games this season, his most since 2011. He finished the regular season with a career-low yards-per-carry average (3.4) and 680 rushing yards, his fewest for a season in which he played 10 games or more.
With Stewart sidelined against the Falcons, Carolina running backs ran 12 times for 30 yards.
Cameron Artis-Payne gained 12 yards on his first carry. But he later fumbled a pitch and had a bad exchange with quarterback Cam Newton, with Artis-Payne recovering both fumbles.
Newton led Carolina with 11 carries for 59 yards against the Falcons, and finished as the leading rusher for the season with 754 yards on 139 carries – both career highs.