CHARLOTTE – Starting cornerback Charles Tillman suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday that will end his season just before the Panthers begin their playoff run.
Tillman suffered the injury early in the second half of Carolina's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to close the regular season. It was Tillman's third game back since missing four games with an injury to the same knee.
"It's too bad. The guy has done some good things for us," head coach Ron Rivera said in announcing the results of Tillman's MRI on Monday. "He knew exactly what the risks were, but he wanted to play.
"He's been a veteran leader and has really helped our guys out, and he's going to be around."
Tillman, in his first season with the Panthers after 12 standout seasons with the Chicago Bears, intercepted two passes, forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble and recorded 58 tackles in 12 starts. He shared his knack for forcing turnovers with his teammates, introducing them to the "Peanut Punch," and Carolina paced the league with 24 interceptions and tied for the lead in both forced fumbles (22) and fumble recoveries (15).
"When you talk about the character of the guys in that room, what more can you say about a guy like Peanut Tillman?" defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He's a guy that I enjoy being around on a day-to-day basis. He's been a real joy to have around and a great example for the young players in the room.
"He's wired like a Panther. He's a winner."
Robert McClain, signed by the Panthers on December 15, replaced Tillman in the lineup and responded with an interception and seven tackles.
"He came in the last couple of weeks from his couch, but he kept himself ready. He was ready yesterday, too," McDermott said. "He knew the game plan and came in and executed the game plan and got a big interception that probably sealed the game."
Rivera said that the hamstring injury suffered by linebacker A.J. Klein in Sunday's game "could be a week-to-week thing" but expressed hope that Klein could return in time for the NFC Division Playoff on Sunday, January 17 at Bank of America Stadium.
He also sounded positive about running back Jonathan Stewart being able to return for the first playoff game from a three-game absence caused by a foot injury.
"We expect to have him working himself back into it this week. Then hopefully by next week he'll be ready to roll," Rivera said. "The biggest thing we have to be smart about his is conditioning, and we've been doing a lot of that."
View the top photos by photographer Kent Smith from Carolina's game against Tampa Bay.