CHARLOTTE – A high ankle sprain will sideline running back Fozzy Whittaker for the Panthers' regular season finale Sunday against Tampa Bay, but running back Jonathan Stewart has a shot at returning from a two-game absence caused by a foot injury of his own.
If Stewart can't play – or perhaps even if he can – undrafted rookie Brandon Wegher could be active for the first time this season.
Whittaker suffered the injury midway through the fourth quarter of Carolina's loss to Atlanta and did not return.
"He's got a high ankle sprain, so it's going to be a week-by-week situation," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll see how he is after this week and reassess."
Rivera said Stewart would be reassessed Wednesday.
"We'll see. If he can't play, it will be more opportunities for Cameron (Artis-Payne) and for Michael Tolbert, and if that's the situation we would have Wegher up. We'll see how it goes."
Rivera said the Panthers would look at Artis-Payne and possibly Wegher and recently signed cornerback Robert McClain to fill Whittaker's role as kickoff returner.
Safety Kurt Coleman also suffered a foot injury of an unknown extent, though he didn't miss any snaps. Coleman sustained the injury when he stepped on Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones' foot on Jones' 70-yard touchdown that gave the Falcons a lead they never relinquished.
LIMITING FACTORS: The Panthers ran the ball well against the Falcons but were limited to a season-low 20 rushing attempts in part because they ran just 52 offensive plays.
"Fifty-two plays is not a lot," Rivera said. "That's a credit to their offense – they had a nine-minute drive in the first quarter that went into the second quarter."
Limited snaps also was a factor but certainly not the only factor in the Panthers not gaining more than 19 yards on any offensive play. Rivera's concern, however, didn't lie with the lack of big strikes.
"They played soft over the top, and at that point that's when you've got to take what they give you underneath, and we didn't do enough of that consistently," Rivera said. "That's probably the biggest disappointment, that we missed opportunities."
NOT IN A RUSH: Defensive tackle Kawann Short recorded both of the Panthers' sacks against the Falcons to increase his season total to 11. While Short has five of Carolina's nine sacks over the last four games, defensive ends have accounted for just a half-a-sack. Charles Johnson hasn't recorded a sack in his first five games back from a hamstring injury, and Jared Allen last recorded a sack in Week 8.
"It's not as productive as you would like it to be in terms of numbers, but as long as they continue to put pressure on and continue to force the quarterback to step up so KK is able to get sacks or our physical linebackers, we'll be OK," Rivera said. "You do want the productivity and the activity, though. The hard part is that you put on the tape and you see how close we are. We are doing things well, but we've got to be better. You want to see those numbers go up."
Linebacker Thomas Davis has 2.5 sacks over the last five games.
HORTON WAIVED: The Panthers made a move at defensive end Monday, waiving Wes Horton.
Horton recently finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. He returned to practice last week under a standard exemption that gave the Panthers until Monday to decide whether to place Horton on the 53-man roster.
Horton had one sack in eight games this season and six in 34 career games.
WEEK 17 APPROACH: Now that the Panthers still have homefield advantage to play for in Week 17, there's no doubt that it's full speed ahead as far as playing the starters.
"We don't have to worry about resting guys. We'll play to win and get some momentum built back up," Rivera said.
Rivera was asked hypothetically if the Panthers were playing solely for 16-0 if the starters would have played. He said they would have, but he wasn't sure how long they would have been in there.
"I wish I had that problem," Rivera said, "but I don't."
View game action photos from Carolina's 20-13 loss to Atlanta.