CHARLOTTE – It's been a difficult season on the heels of a difficult offseason for running back DeAngelo Williams, but the good news is that there's still time to turn it around.
Williams has missed more than half of the Panthers' games because of injuries, and the team has lost five consecutive games heading into Sunday's game at Minnesota. In May, Williams was dealt adversity of a much more devastating nature, when his mother, Sandra Hill, lost her lengthy battle with cancer.
"Not having to deal with this type of adversity over a season before and then in Year Nine you have that, you sit back and think, 'OK, what's next?' not in terms of injury but getting over whatever it is that's ailing you," Williams said. "It's a learning experience."
Williams dyed his hair pink in honor of his mother prior to the season opener and continues to sport the look. He would no doubt savor a successful season in the wake of his mother's death, and even with the Panthers at 3-7-1, a happy ending is still possible.
"You don't go out there expecting to lose the game … but it's pretty sweet considering that we're 3-7 and just a half-a-game back. It's great still being in the playoff hunt," Williams said. "The best part about it is that we've got five games left, and we control our own destiny. We're either going to step up to the plate and either strike out or knock it out of the park."
You can be sure even if things don't work out, Williams will go down swinging.
"DeAngelo is a tough-minded guy," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Not being able to play in part of the season when he knows he could have helped us, it's been hard on him. He's struggled with that, but he has handled it like a pro. He's done everything he's supposed to.
"When he got hurt (at Baltimore), we flew back, and that night he was in the training room getting treatment. That's how serious he is about his craft, but it has been tough on him."
Williams rushed for 72 yards in the season opener at Tampa Bay to help Carolina to a 17-14 victory, but he suffered a thigh injury that sidelined him for the next two games. Williams returned to form early in a Week 4 game at the Baltimore Ravens, only to suffer a high ankle sprain on his best run of the day that kept him out of the next four games.
Williams had missed more than three games in a season just once previously in his career. This year he's missed six, and the leading rusher in franchise history could be facing the prospect of a career-low rushing yardage total.
"It's a part of the game," Williams said. "You try to stay healthy and do the right things to keep the body going, but sometimes things happen on the field that are out of your control. You just have to get back healthy."
Williams has been healthy the last three games, and Sunday he'll team with fellow backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert for the first time since Week 1. While Stewart and Williams have been back on the field together for the last three games, a knee injury has sidelined Tolbert since Week 3.
"He brings a different dynamic to this team – from pass blocking to running the ball to short yardage and goal line to his presence in the huddle and on the sideline," Williams said. "It will pay dividends."
Williams and the running game appear to be in the best shape they've been in since the beginning of the year, but all Williams is worried about is the team getting back to what it was doing at the beginning of the year.
"Whatever it takes to win – whether it's three yards or 300 yards," Williams said. "It's about whatever it takes to win football games and put us where we want to be, which is in the playoffs."