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Carolina Panthers DE Charles Johnson’s long-term prognosis is promising

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/19/01/14/RGtXh.Em.138.jpeg|382
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers (95) 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, November 18, 2013 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20. Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/19/20/11/bhnc3.Em.138.jpeg|458
    Chuck Burton - AP
    Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) hugged it out with New England’s Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the final play of the Panthers’ 24-20 Monday night win. Kuechly was originally called for pass interference, but the flag was waved off when officials huddled and determined that Tom Brady’s underthrown pass would not have been caught by Gronkowski.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/15/18/30/qGuUi.Em.138.jpeg|383
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn doesn’t expect to play against the Dolphins.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/19/01/19/Zguuh.Em.138.jpeg|216
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Carolina Panthers (19) wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. encourages the fans to stand and make noise as the defense battled the New England Patriots in the closing moments of fourth quarter action on Monday, November 18, 2013 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20. Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson was on crutches with a brace on his right knee Wednesday. But the consensus around Bank of America Stadium was that it could have been worse.

Johnson was injured in the third quarter Monday night in the 24-20 win against New England when Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon leg-whipped him but was not penalized. He was carted to the locker room and sat out a couple of series before returning for the Patriots’ last drive.

An MRI exam on Tuesday revealed a sprained MCL. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Johnson was relieved he had not torn any ligaments.

“We’re very fortunate. He sprained it and we’ll see as each day goes on. We’ll re-evaluate after three days and see how he’s reacting to the treatment,” Rivera said. “The biggest thing is he’s really sore right now. It’s about getting the soreness and the swelling out more so than anything else.”

Johnson’s status is week-to-week, and it seems unlikely he would play Sunday at Miami. Rivera compared the injury to the knee sprain sustained by backup tight end Ben Hartsock, who missed the Patriots’ game but could be back this week.

Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and undrafted rookie Wes Horton are the candidates to replace Johnson, who is second in the NFC with 8.5 sacks and has 21 sacks in his past 23 games.

“He’s playing very well right now,” Rivera said. “He’s playing about as well as any defensive end in this league.”

Final word on final play: Lost in the controversy surrounding the pass interference call/no-call on the last play against New England was this: middle linebacker Luke Kuechly’s failure to play the ball against tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Kuechly, who had a costly pass interference penalty during Buffalo’s game-winning drive in Week 2, lined up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage and ended up essentially face-guarding Gronkowski on Tom Brady’s pass.

“If I was going to scrutinize anything about that play, I would like to have seen Luke trust himself a little bit more. He was in great position,” Rivera said. “As a coach looking at it, the only thing I would’ve told him is just get your head around. Because he was on the hip, he was underneath and he was in the throwing lane.”

Kuechly is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, all of which were on short passes. Kuechly agreed his technique could have been better on the much-discussed play against the Patriots.

“If I get my head around sooner, I can see the ball,” Kuechly said. “That’s what you’ve got to do moving forward.”

Ginn goes home again: Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. will have his second homecoming game in a 15-day span at Miami, which drafted Ginn ninth overall in 2007. Ginn spent three years in Miami, catching passes from five starting quarterbacks, before being traded to San Francisco for a fifth-round pick after the ’09 season.

The Dolphins used three quarterbacks in 2007 – Cleo Lemon, Trent Green and John Beck – when they went 1-15 during Ginn’s rookie year. He said it’s different being in Charlotte with a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton.

“When you come in you know what you’re dealing with. Where you come in (to Miami), you might have a guy coming off the streets and he might be your starter for the week,” Ginn said. “It’s just the time and the situations. They moved past it, we moved past it. It’s over with. It’s done.”

Ginn was fired up when the Panthers faced San Francisco, where he caught only two passes last year. After a long punt return that set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal, Ginn stared at the 49ers’ bench and spun the ball.

Ginn was not in the mood to reminisce Wednesday.

Asked about his memories from Miami, Ginn first mentioned the heat. He said his highlight was a 2009 game against the Jets when Ginn returned two kickoffs for touchdowns of 100 and 101 yards, tying an NFL record.

Blackburn improving: Outside linebacker Chase Blackburn said his injured foot is improving, but he doesn’t expect to play against the Dolphins. Blackburn, who has started six games, is hoping to return for the Dec. 1 game against Tampa Bay.

Blackburn had the cast removed from his right foot and is wearing a protective boot.

“I definitely feel progress,” he said. “I need to get a couple practices no matter what to just get back in the flow. And A.J. (Klein) is playing well. I don’t like missing time. I’ve only missed a few games in my career. I don’t enjoy it, but sometimes it’s part of the game.”

Blackburn was among five players who missed Wednesday’s walkthrough. The others were Johnson, Hartsock, cornerback Drayton Florence (groin) and guard Chris Scott (knee).

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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