1. STEWART HANDLING WORKLOAD: The last few weeks, head coach Ron Rivera has been asked about the possibility of getting some rest for workhorse running back Jonathan Stewart, and each week he says it's a consideration.
Then each week, the large majority of the carries go to Stewart, who insists he isn't any worse for the wear.
"All year, Coach has done a good job with all the players as far as keeping us fresh," Stewart said.
It's nice to hear that from a player who has already amassed a career high in carries with at least 20 rushes in eight consecutive games. Stewart ranks second in the NFL with 232 carries, and with 86 yards Sunday he would become the third NFL back this season to reach 1,000 yards.
He might well get that chance, but it also might not be long before other running backs get more involved. Backups Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne have combined for just 22 rushes so far, and rookie Brandon Wegher has been inactive for every game.
"Some guys get into rhythms – you can see it, you can feel it – and you talk to the coaches and they're not quick to take guys off the field because there is a rhythm to the game," head coach Ron Rivera said. "And when you're in the situation we've been in where you're trying to work toward something, you're a little apprehensive to do things and you go with what's working.
"But now that we've reached this position, I've got to look at each situation and decides what's best for us."
2. TILLMAN STILL WORKING WAY BACK: The top concern with Stewart, of course, is the risk of injury for a guy who last played a full season in 2011. Cornerback Charles Tillman, who last played a full season in 2013, is in danger of missing a fourth consecutive game with a knee injury.
"Each day he'll progress, but right now I'd probably say he's doubtful," Rivera said. "He came out pretty good this morning so they increased things, but they (the athletic trainers) aren't quite ready to turn to him over to us. We'll see tomorrow."
The progress has been speedier for Mario Addison's ankle. The team leader in sacks by a defensive ends on a per-game basis missed last week's game but practiced in full for the second consecutive day.
"Mario had a good day," Rivera said. "He increased his reps and opportunities on the practice field, so real pleased with what he did today."
3. KUECHLY BACK ON TOP: Addison's 4.5 sacks rank fourth on the team, behind Kawann Short's seven and five apiece for Kony Ealy and Thomas Davis.
Davis had been the team's tackle leader until recently, when Luke Kuechly passed him despite missing three games after suffering a concussion in the season opener.
Kuechly just caught Davis with 81 tackles based on press box stats. Based on coaches' film review, Kuechly has 98 and Davis 92.
"I knew he would," Rivera said. "TD was able to do some of the things that Luke was doing, and that helped catapult him ahead. But knowing the guy in the middle is the guy who gets the most opportunities, it was a matter of time.
"That's nothing against the way TD is playing because TD is playing at all All-Pro caliber level. We're very fortunate to have the guys that we have."
4. PANTHERS SUPPORTER MADDEN ON THE MEND: Knowing the way John Madden analyzes games over the years as an iconic broadcaster, you know he's got to love the combination of Kuechly and Davis.
Madden was in the news Thursday after the NFL announced that the 79-year-old recently underwent successful open-heart surgery. Rivera was concerned by the news, having struck up a relationship with Madden a couple of years ago at the suggestion of Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson.
"He's been very honest, very blunt about things, giving me advice and opinions," said Rivera, who has visited Madden in California prior to the 2013 season. "One of the really neat things he's done this year is call me upon certain milestones that we've hit during the season and congratulated me, and I shared that with the players and coaches.
"One thing he's said is that he really appreciates the physicality of our team."
5. MORE MATTERS OF THE HEART: Tillman, in addition to his rehab work, has added a Charlotte hospital to the list of facilities where he's helping families rehabilitate after dealing with a medical trauma.
His Tiana Fund, which has already donated more than $1 million to 300-plus families at eight Illinois hospitals, is now serving Levine Children's Hospital as well. The fund is named for Tillman's daughter, who received a heart transplant when she was six months old.
To support the extended program, the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation will host "Puttin' on the Ritz" on January 11 at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte.
Friday, fellow cornerback Josh Norman will give back to his hometown of Greenwood, S.C., by hosting the inaugural Holiday GIVE Day, which will benefit 24 families and more than 150 children. The event is courtesy of Norman's Starz24 foundation, of which Tillman and several other teammates are listed as a sponsor.
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Falcons.