Not having Jonathan Stewart in the backfield for the Carolina Panthers proved to not be an issue for the team against the New York Giants. The Panthers still went on to win the game and remain undefeated on the season. They now head to Atlanta with no plans of resting their starters as home field advantage in the playoffs is the priority. The Panthers could be trying to do that without Stewart once again as the running back sits out of practice.
According to the Charlotte Observer, Stewart was not at practice with the team again as the running back deals with a foot injury. The issue is not expected to be serious. Head coach Ron Rivera originally said it was merely a precaution holding him out of Week 15, but now missing another week would be cause for concern. Rivera is maintaining the stance that Stewart is fine, but the running back could be resting again in Week 16.
If Stewart cannot play, Cameron Artis-Payne could get the starting nod. The rookie running back played well against the Giants with 14 carries for 59 yards and two catches for 34 yards. The former Auburn star looked the part of a solid NFL running back as his only issue was a muffed handoff in the fourth quarter that led to a turnover. He worked well in the rotation of Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker as Rivera was pleased with the rookie's debut.
"He did well,'' Rivera said, via ESPN.com. "He handled his opportunities very nicely. He had a couple of big runs that he popped. He had a couple of runs that he had to power up inside and he was able to grind out four-, five-yard gains. He looked a little tentative a couple of times. He kind of tippy-toed a little bit. A little bit. He's out of practice. He was a little rusty.''
The Panthers are prepared to face a Falcons team hoping to play upset. There has already been trash talking between the teams as both Roddy White and Julio Jones downplayed Josh Norman as being an elite cornerback. Greg Olsen defended his teammate while understanding that Week 16 will present another challenge. Ted Ginn Jr hopes to have a similar game as their first matchup in the season. He put up two scores in that game while adding another two scores against the Giants. Rivera was pleased with the effort and he intends to keep everyone on the field as the game holds importance to the Panthers' playoff picture.
"Two things I've come to learn,'' Rivera said, via ESPN.com. "First of all, this next game has value. After that, these are players. These guys want to play. If the game has value, obviously, there's no issue. [When] we get to that game, we'll cross that bridge.''