CHARLOTTE – Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei fractured his foot at the end of Tuesday's practice and will not play when Carolina faces Seattle in an NFC Divisional Playoff.
"He stepped on somebody's foot and rolled his at the very end of practice," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He had surgery this morning to repair it."
Rivera said Lotulelei needs at least two weeks to heal. If the Panthers win two more games, there is a chance Lotulelei could be available for the Super Bowl.
But the Panthers are focused on the here and now. One awkward step has sidelined one of their starting defensive tackles, who had recently begun playing his best football of the year, just days before they face the defending Super Bowl champions.
"It's crazy, but we can't sit here and dwell on it," fellow defensive tackle and good friend Kawann Short said. "He's a big asset to the defensive line, but we still have to go out there and play."
Added defensive tackle Dwan Edwards: "We are going to miss him. He's a rock on our D-line. But that's football. We'll roll guys around and keep it moving."
Rivera is confident in the defensive line despite losing Lotulelei.
"We'll miss Star, but I think we have the guys who can fill in and do more than an adequate job," Rivera said.
Colin Cole has started 23 games at defensive tackle in two seasons with the Panthers. The 10-year veteran was the starter this year before Short took over in Week 8. At 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, he appears most likely to start in place of Lotulelei.
Edwards, an 11-year veteran, has been solid in a rotational role this season. He's posted 13 sacks in three seasons with Carolina.
The new face in the mix is fourth-year pro Kyle Love, who was signed on December 15. He played 41 games with 25 starts for the New England Patriots from 2010-12 before playing one game for both the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. He was inactive for the last two regular season games and last week's Wild Card game.
"You don't hope for anybody to get hurt. But the next guy has to be ready, and that's me," Love said.
Love isn't short on playoff experience. He started four playoff games during his tenure in New England, including Super Bowl XLVI.
"I've been in situations – Divisional games, AFC Championship, Super Bowl. I know how to take it in," Love said. "I'll be able to stay calm and stay focused"
It's not a situation the Panthers wanted, but they're not about to let one injury hold them back.
"Everybody is going to have to pick their play up," Cole said. "We are going to have to do what needs to be done to come out with this win so Star can come back and play with us in February."
BROWN UPDATE: Rookie wide receiver Philly Brown (shoulder) missed practice for the second consecutive day, but Rivera said he's making progress.
"Philly had a good day on the side," Rivera said. "He was actually catching balls. The next thing will be to see if he can block."
If Brown can't play, the Panthers will need to somehow replace his speed. Rivera said Joe Webb and practice squad wide receiver Stephen Hill are two potential options.