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Panthers’ Charles Johnson not 100 percent, but he will be playing

Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson might not be back to 100 percent, but he’s close enough for his defensive teammates eager to get him back in the lineup for Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Johnson, who has missed two games with a sprained knee, said Wednesday he expects to play against the pass-happy Saints.

“I’m still building up to (100 percent), but I’ll be good to go on Sunday,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It’s feeling good. It’s getting stronger. I’m just ready for Sunday.”

That was welcome news to cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

“It’s a big help. He’s a playmaker. The biggest thing for me is he plays on my side,” Munnerlyn said. “He always plays big in big-time games.”

Johnson sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when New England offensive tackle Marcus Cannon leg-whipped him in the third quarter of the Panthers’ Monday night win Nov. 18.

Cannon apologized to Johnson after the game and was fined $15,750 later that week by the league office.

“It was kind of disappointing. But things happen. That’s how it goes,” Johnson said. “I was disappointed a little bit just because I wanted to be out there on the field so bad. But we’re winning. So I can’t complain.”

Johnson said he probably could have played last week against Tampa Bay, but wanted to give his knee extra time to heal. Johnson said he doesn’t think returning to the game for the Patriots’ final series made the injury worse.

“It was already messed up from the get-go. I just wanted to be out there, try to make a play,” he said. “It was hurting. But at the same time, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Johnson, who plans to wear a brace on the knee, remains the Panthers’ leader with 8.5 sacks.

“We definitely need him for this game. And we need him as close to 100 percent as we can get him,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re about to make a big run in December – to make this playoff run and hopefully to the Super Bowl.”

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