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Running back Kenjon Barner returns to Panthers practice

The second-best rushing offense in the league is poised to be even stronger in the coming weeks.

Panthers rookie running back Kenjon Barner practiced Tuesday for the first time in the regular season and said he’s on track to play Week 5 against Arizona when Carolina returns from its bye week.

“Yeah absolutely,” Barner said about his target date of Oct. 6. “Just got to keep working, stay in the treatment room even when I feel like I don’t need it and just keep that up and continue to work to get back in shape.”

Barner suffered a foot sprain in the third preseason game at Baltimore. He was in a protective boot the following week and had not run at practice until this week.

The sixth-round draft pick from Oregon spent his practice days on the sideline with another former Ducks running back, Jonathan Stewart, on the exercise bike or doing strength and conditioning.

But Barner was in a full sweat following Tuesday’s practice, and that was OK with him.

“I felt good, felt real good to finally get back out there and run full speed and be back out there with the guys,” he said. “It was a good day.”

Ron Rivera has said he doesn’t plan to use Barner as an every-down back with Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina’s stable of running backs. Barner rushed 16 times for 45 yards in the preseason for an average of 2.8 yards per carry, but that was also mostly behind the second-team, and sometimes third-team, offensive lines.

The Panthers have 453 rushing yards through three games for an average of 151 yards per game. Philadelphia, with the help of the league’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick, averages a league-high 209 yards per game.

Last week, Rivera said Stewart is on track to return to the team in Week 7. The Panthers placed Stewart on the physically unable to perform list before the season while he recovered from offseason ankle surgery.

After sitting out the first six week of the season, Stewart will be eligible to return for the Panthers’ Oct. 20 home contest against St. Louis.

Playoff stats: It’s rare that a team with a losing record three games into the season winds up making the playoffs, but in the NFC, it’s an absolute this year.

The NFC has just five teams with a winning record with seven teams at 1-2 in sixth place in the conference.

According to an NFL spokesman, since 1990, 60 teams with a losing record through three games have made the playoffs, an average of 2.6 per season.

“It is simple math. It comes down to it. 1-2 obviously is better than 0-3,” Rivera said Monday. “In our situation, if there are only five teams in front of us with better records than us, guess where that puts us?”

The Panthers, Falcons, Eagles, Packers, Rams, 49ers and Cardinals are all 1-2.

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