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Notes: Stewart could return; Silatolu will not

CHARLOTTE – Running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both caused some trouble for the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.

In the final week of the season with a trip to New Orleans in the offing, "Double Trouble" would love a second chance to double-team the Saints.

"I just want to be a part of this team closing things out," Stewart said Wednesday. "We've got the Saints. What better way to end the season?"

Stewart hasn't played since spraining his ankle in a Week 12 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles, but he ended last week by taking limited reps in practice for the first time since the injury and did the same again Wednesday.

"He looked pretty good," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He looked a little hobbled still to me, but he worked through some of those things. We'll see how he is tomorrow morning, and then we'll see how he does at practice."

Stewart and Williams both scored a touchdown as the Panthers rushed for a season-high 219 yards in their 35-27 victory over New Orleans in Week 2. Williams has hit his stride since Stewart's injury, but he undoubtedly would welcome the return of his running mate.

"Division games are always good matchups with a different type of intensity," Stewart said. "I've been rehabbing hard to get back on the field, so with this being the last game, I'm definitely getting anxious."


LINE ITEMS: Especially with rookie left guard Amini Silatolu headed to injured reserve with a left wrist injury suffered in Sunday's victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Panthers would benefit from veteran Geoff Hangartner's return.

But Hangartner, who started the year at right guard before moving to center, missed practice Wednesday with a foot injury that has sidelined him for the last two games. Linebacker James Anderson (back), who has missed the last three games, also did not practice.

Rivera said Silatolu will require surgery after dislocating his wrist on the second play of the Raiders game. The second-round draft pick out of Midwestern State had started every game this season.

"There is some great footage on him that tells you he's developed," Rivera said. "He's not quite where he needs to be, but he's taken some big steps. He's come a long way. He's a much better football player today.

"It was kind of what you would figure with a young guy coming in and switching to a new position. Coming from a small school, we knew he would struggle some early, but what we had anticipated was being able to protect him. Then unfortunately (center) Ryan Kalil got hurt, and he got exposed a little bit early on. But down the stretch, he played very well."

The team hasn't decided whether it will fill Silatolu's roster spot before the season finale. When Silatolu left Sunday, the Panthers used center Thomas Austin at left guard in addition to tackle Bruce Campbell for a couple of series.

"We had a chance today to look at what we want to do, and tomorrow is a chance to refine it more," Rivera said. "But we're not set on anything."

SUPPORT FROM SMITTY: Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith is among those who would support retaining Rivera as head coach next season, but Smith said he would support whatever decision his superiors make.

"I love Coach Rivera, and I respect him," Smith said. "I think he's done a great job. I love the way he handles the players.

"But ultimately, that doesn't really fall on us as players."

Rivera, whose job status has been in question since the Panthers parted ways with longtime general manager Marty Hurney five games into the season, is taking a similar tact.

"My future is not important. What's important is the future of this football team and these players," Rivera said. "That's more important than anything else. I will just react to what happens."

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