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Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson’s sprained knee leaves status uncertain

PANTHERS_PATRIOTS_51
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is helped off the field by team personnel after being injured during third quarter action vs the New England Patriots on Monday. An MRI on Tuesday diagnosed the injury as a sprained knee.

An MRI done Tuesday on Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson’s right knee showed a sprain of his medial collateral ligament, according to a source, and he could miss Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Johnson was injured in the third quarter of Carolina’s 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Monday night. He was carted to the locker room but would later return to the game for the final drive.

Johnson suffered the injury when he was leg-whipped by Patriots offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. Cannon was not penalized for the play, and Johnson said after the game Cannon apologized to him.

“That’s a disappointing play,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I’m pretty adamant about it because it happened to me when I played. And I actually fractured my leg and sprained my anterior cruciate. So whenever I see one of those, it really disappoints me. I know the league is aware of it, mostly because everyone in America saw it last night. So the league will handle that situation.”

Johnson was back on the sideline during the next Patriots possession, but he didn’t go back in until the final minute. He pleaded with his coaches to let him test his knee, but Rivera wanted to err on the side of caution before finally relenting.

“They weren’t going to put me in but I said I had to go out there,” Johnson said after the game. “I told coach just let me test it out and I just got out there and tried to push the pocket and try to get Tom Brady.

“I felt OK. I couldn’t turn the edge like I wanted to but I was just trying to push the pocket.”

Backup ends Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton will contend for starting duties this week if Johnson is unable to play Sunday. But they’ll have to shore up their shortcomings from the second half, when Johnson was out.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott expressed disappointment in the defense’s play in the third quarter, when Tom Brady scored an early touchdown and had 12 straight completions.

“I think Charles going down, because he means a lot to that group, I think it took a little bit of the wind out of our sails,” Rivera said. “Young guys can’t let that happen. They’ve got to pick up the slack.”

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