Sam Darnold ready to return to action

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CHARLOTTE — Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold cleared the concussion protocol Saturday, and he's cleared to play today.

Darnold worked out pre-game, and he's expected to start at quarterback for the Panthers today against the Patriots.

He was listed as questionable on the injury report with a right shoulder issue, after the hard shot he took last week against the Falcons. But after checking him out before the game, they decided to keep him in the lineup.

Running back Christian McCaffrey will also be on the field today. He was activated from injured reserve on Saturday, and is expected to get his first action since Week 3, when he suffered a hamstring injury at Houston.

They're expected to continue to spread the rushing load, however, as they did last week in Atlanta (when they had a season-high 47 carries for 203 rushing yards, with four different ball-carriers, not including backup quarterback P.J. Walker's kneel down at the end of the game.)

The Panthers made the following seven players inactive Sunday: Wide receiver Shi Smith, cornerback CJ Henderson, cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, running back Royce Freeman, linebacker Kamal Martin, guard Pat Elflein, and defensive tackle Phil Hoskins.

That leaves them with McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, and Ameer Abdullah in the backfield. With Smith inactive, they'll have veteran Willie Snead in the lineup, after he was elevated from the practice squad Saturday.

PANTHERS INACTIVES

WR Shi Smith

CB CJ Henderson

CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver III

RB Royce Freeman

LB Kamal Martin

G Pat Elflein

DT Phil Hoskins

PATRIOTS INACTIVES

TE Devin Asiasi

DE Ronnie Perkins

G Yasir Durant

RB J.J. Taylor

WR K'Neal Harry

CB Shaun Wade

View photos of the Panthers arriving at Bank of America Stadium prior to Sunday's game with New England, presented by Coca-Cola.

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