CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers (4-5) are in Arizona Sunday as they hit the road to face the Cardinals (8-1) in a game that will likely feature two backup quarterbacks leading their respective teams.
The Panthers will be without Sam Darnold, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in last week's 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots. Darnold has gotten injured in back-to-back games, and according to a report from ESPN insider Adam Schefter, the team fears he could miss the rest of the season.
P.J. Walker will start against the Cardinals, and the team signed veteran Matt Barkley as a backup option. But Barkley isn't the QB fans are waiting for: No, it's the return of Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, that garnered NFL headlines and energized the Panthers fan base this week.
Newton joked about even getting a call, thinking someone was playing a prank on him when he saw Matt Rhule's name on his caller ID. So after missing the call, Newton returned to Taco Tuesday with his kids until the phone rang again. What happened next led to what many thought was an unlikely homecoming after a not-so-sweet divorce in the spring of 2020.
"When we talked it was very exhilarating to hear his voice," Newton said. "I'm happy to be here. We're 4-5 right now. We got a chance on Sunday to become 1-0, and that's all that it is. Speaking on the past is irrelevant, speaking on the future is irrelevant. I'm trying to maximize the present."
Newton's status for Sunday's game is still up in the air after Rhule said it's "not very likely" he plays against the Cardinals. Should Newton sit out against the Cardinals, his return would likely come against his old head coach, Ron Rivera, and the Washington Football team at Bank of America Stadium on Nov. 21.
Newton's contract keeps him with the Panthers through the end of this season, but Schefter's report indicated there's a chance he could earn the starting job for 2022.
The injury bug is also affecting Arizona, who is expected to be without quarterback Kyler Murray, who was a frontrunner for NFL MVP, and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported that Hopkins is expected to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury he suffered against Green Bay two weeks ago. With Murray out, veteran Colt McCoy would be under center for the Cardinals.
Coincidentally (or not, depending on how you feel), Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey also injured his hamstring in a Thursday game.
The 2019 All-Pro running back said he "definitely" felt playing on a short week contributed to the injury that sidelined him for five games.
After spending four years with the Cardinals, Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick is heading west to face his former team for the first time.
In an interview with Panthers.com, Reddick said he felt extra pressure to live up to expectations after he was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round in 2017.
"It was very hard," Reddick said. "Not even the expectations from everybody else, but from yourself. Knowing that you're a first-round pick, knowing you have to live up to that."
LOCKED ON NFL PREDICTION
With so many injuries in this game, Locked On's Ross Jackson and Cameron LaFontaine say points could be at a premium. Last week, the Cardinals went to San Francisco without Murray and easily handled the 49ers. Expect the Cardinals to once again lean on their running game but it could be tough sledding against the Panthers' stingy defense.
Coming into this week's game, Carolina has the league's No. 2 defense, giving up just 293 yards per game.
Ross Jackson: Cardinals 24, Panthers 13
Cameron LaFontaine: Cardinals 27, Panthers 13
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