CHARLOTTE - As fluky as it was to lose both starting defensive tackles to season-ending injuries in the same game, it might be even flukier how
Fua suffered a severe hamstring strain before the game, and McClain injured the medial collateral ligament in his left knee early in the third quarter.
"It was just a freak accident," Fua said. "I was already warmed up, and I was just casually stretching when my hamstring just felt like it tore. The doctors said they had never seen anything like that. It was just a bizarre accident."
While Fua said his injury wouldn't require surgery, McClain said he'd have to wait a couple of weeks until the swelling goes down before finding out if he'll need surgery.
"It was kind of weird. It really doesn't look like anything happened on film," McClain said. "But I knew when I got up. I felt looseness in my knee, and I came right off the field.
"It looks like somebody fell on my leg, that an offensive lineman and defensive lineman got tangled up and probably fell on my leg when I made the tackle."
Fua and McClain, a pair of rookie third-round draft picks who have started all season, both expressed their disappointment and said they were well on their way to finishing the season strong.
They also believe, however, that their replacements are up to the task.
"Frank (Kearse) and Andre (Neblett), they're going to be great," Fua said. "They played great last game. Andre is a great player who has been playing great all year. Frank hasn't gotten that many reps, but he's a good player who plays hard and knows what he's doing."
Kearse said that despite the injuries, Fua and McClain are continuing to contribute.
"They're supportive," Kearse said. "Anything I need, any questions I have, I can ask them."
MACK TRUCKING: Reserve offensive lineman
Lately, he's also loved it when the referee calls his number.
Bernadeau has reported to the referee in several goal-line situations as an eligible receiver, though he hasn't had the ball come in his direction.
"It's fun to report as an eligible receiver because maybe somebody will throw you the ball," Bernadeau said. "Being an extra blocker in goal line situations is fun, just to be out there and help the team score."
Bernadeau got more action than that against the Buccaneers, taking over at left guard when
"It's always fun to get out there, but it's tough to do it because somebody got hurt," Bernadeau said. "But it was nice to get some reps with the guys and try to contribute as much as I could."
While Wharton returned to practice Thursday, left tackle
"I'm not too concerned," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "Somebody rolled over on his ankle (against Tampa Bay). He got it pinned and twisted, but he played the whole game.
"What we're really doing is just trying to get all the swelling down. He's a veteran guy that can miss a couple of days and still come back."
TOYS FOR TOTS: Fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons to support the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
Representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve will be stationed at each Bank of America Stadium gate beginning at 11 a.m. to collect the toys. Fans can also visit http://www.toysfortots.org/touchdown through Dec. 24 to sponsor a toy for a child.