CHARLOTTE — The Panthers won a game they had to, in impressive fashion, but they may have lost one of their best defensive players.
Cornerback Jaycee Horn was carted to the locker room in the fourth quarter with a wrist injury, and teammate Brian Burns (who sits at the locker next to Horn) said after the game that the fear was Horn broke his wrist.
"Yeah, I'm a little bummed about my dog," Burns said. "Just feel bad for my youngin'. . . .
"I feel bad for him just because he's unfortunate that he missed all of last season, and he was about to close out this season playing at the unbelievable level he's playing at. I think he's a top-five corner, to be honest with you."
Interim head coach Steve Wilks said after the game they were still awaiting tests, and Horn was going to have an MRI to determine the severity of the injury. With so much unknown about his status (but little in the way of optimism), Burns said he didn't want to speculate on whether there was a way for Horn to play again this year.
"I don't know, depends on how serious the injury is," Burns said. "If it's too serious, I wouldn't want him to play."
In the moments after a dominant 37-23 win over the Lions, the loss of one of the league's top young cover corners put a damper on an otherwise celebratory Christmas Eve mood, especially considering they're playing Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next week with the division lead on the line.
"I know that he's devastated because of the season he's having," veteran safety Xavier Woods said. "I can't speak for him, but he's having a heck of a season, one of the best corners in the league, and he doesn't want it to end this way.
"He's a big contributor to this team, a big part of this team, so it's hard. Guys have to step up."
The 2021 first-rounder missed most of last season after suffering a broken foot during a win in Houston in Week 3.
It could leave the Panthers short in the secondary as well. Keith Taylor Jr. came in to replace Horn in the fourth quarter and left with a better performance than last week when he was picked on by the Steelers. Other than Taylor and starter CJ Henderson, the Panthers have veteran T.J. Carrie on the roster at the moment.
They claimed cornerback Justin Layne off waivers from the Bears last week, but he didn't come to Charlotte, and on Thursday was placed on reserve/did not report. That prevents him from being an option moving forward. Since they have two open roster spots, the Panthers have room to add, and they also have cornerback Madre Harper on the practice squad.
Woods, the leader of the secondary who takes the burden of communication back there, said he had a simple message for whoever steps in.
"Just be you. Just be you," Woods said. "Nobody in here is Number 8. He's the only Jaycee we have out there. So Keith, CJ, whoever else comes in there, just be you."
And for the rest of the leaders on that defense, the burden increases on all of them to help pick up the slack, if Horn isn't able to return.
"It hurts our defense," linebacker Frankie Luvu said. "He's one of the guys we look at, leading that back seven. For him to go down hurts us as a defense. But we know guys like Keith and CJ and TJ have been stepping up, and we need them to step up. This is their time to come to the table.
"Jaycee, he came through, and we told him we got his back. We've got his back, and I know for him, he's disappointed. But at the same time, he'll be there to support us. And we'll be there to support him, no matter what situation he's in. And we've got his back all the way."