CHARLOTTE – For the first time this season, the Panthers will be without workhorse running back Jonathan Stewart. The NFL's third-leading rusher with 989 yards will not play Sunday against the Giants after suffering a sprained foot in last week's win over the Falcons.
"He's not going to play this week. We are going to be very cautious with this," head coach Ron Rivera said. "The MRI came back negative, but there was some swelling. We're going to be smart."
With Stewart out, the Panthers will turn to a backfield trio of Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne to handle the workload.
Rivera said Whittaker or Tolbert will get the start based on whichever personnel group offensive coordinator Mike Shula opts to open with.
"We're in a good situation with Fozzy and Tolbert, who have done a really nice job," Rivera said.
Whittaker, a shifty runner with speed to get the edge, is coming off his most productive game of the season. He rushed eight times for 34 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.
Tolbert is a bulldozing runner who has primarily been a short-yardage option this season. He's rushed 45 times for 175 yards and one touchdown. He's also been a threat in the passing game, catching 15 passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
Artis-Payne, a fifth-round draft choice from Auburn, is still relatively unknown. He has played in just four games, carrying the ball 12 times for 31 yards. Eight of those carries came against the Buccaneers back in Week 4.
"This is a big opportunity for Cameron. I'm excited about it," Rivera said. "This is a young man that we drafted and we saw some really good flashes. It's a great opportunity to see what he can do."
Artis-Payne has been waiting patiently for his chance to make an impact. He hasn't been active since Week 8.
"It's been tough, but we're winning so it's not really a problem," Artis-Payne said. "The whole goal of team sports is to go out there and win."
Artis-Payne is confident he can help Carolina do that for the 14th consecutive time this season.
"I feel like I am different than Stew, but I feel I can get the job done as well," Artis-Payne said. "Stew is a proven running back. I haven't really played yet, so we are going to see.
"I've been ready," he added. "I've felt comfortable in the system since training camp. I've just been trying to stay sharp until I got my opportunity."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Giants.