The Carolina Panthers set themselves up for a critical four-game stretch to end the season after Sunday’s 24-17 loss to Tampa Bay — a stretch they’ll likely have to play without Greg Olsen.
Carolina’s Pro Bowl tight end left the game with a non-contact foot injury early in the second quarter. After trainers briefly checked him on the sideline, he was taken to the locker room on the back of a cart. The team soon after announced he would not return to the game.
After the game, Olsen revealed what happened — he ruptured the plantar fascia in his right foot, which he more or less described as a ticking time bomb since he returned to the field in Week 6, after a four-game absence.
“Ever since coming back, we knew there would be some stuff to deal with and compensation and whatnot,” Olsen said. “The last handful of weeks, my foot’s been bothering me. I’ve been sore and it’s just kind of been something we’ve maintained. I was feeling all right today and on the that play, I went to push off and ruptured my plantar — the bottom tissue of my foot popped.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Olsen missed nine games in 2017 with a Jones fracture in his right foot and missed the better part of four games this season with the same injury.
The Panthers have limited Olsen’s practice reps this season in an effort to preserve his foot’s health, but it appears his limited practices were also connected to the pain the 12-year veteran was experiencing. He called the past two seasons frustrating as he’s twice dealt with the repercussions of breaking his foot.
The pain stemming from the break itself, the surgery to fix it and the strains he put on his foot while overcompensating to avoid pain all eventually caused it to give way.
“It just all stems from what I’ve got going on and the amount of trauma that’s happened to this foot over the last two seasons now,” Olsen said. “We did the best we could, we got as much out of it, I think, as we could have. Finally, my foot just kind of had enough.”
Olsen said he knew he was done for the day as soon as he felt his foot pop, and it didn’t take long for Carolina to officially rule him out.
With four games remaining on the Panthers’ schedule and Olsen didn’t sound optimistic about the possibility of playing again in 2018.
“I think it’s going to be tough. I think we got about as much as we could’ve ever asked for out of this foot in its current state,” he said. “It’s just tough to go 10 years and not really have anything, then have one little injury now stall me for the good part of two seasons. It’s frustrating.
“I can still play at a high level, just hasn’t been in the plans right now.”
Chris Manhertz and rookie Ian Thomas split snaps at tight end after Olsen’s departure. Thomas finished with 46 yards on five catches — both career-highs.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said the team’s offense didn’t particularly change after Olsen’s injury and, without discrediting Olsen’s importance, said the Panthers now have to focus on getting Thomas up to speed.
“We have strong belief in Ian and knowing what he’s capable of,” Newton said. “He had a great catch today. Just getting him comfortable, that’s what it pretty much comes down to.”
Dr. David Chao, an orthopedic surgeon who opines on football injuries as @ProFootballDoc on Twitter, tweeted Olsen’s “career isn’t over but his season essentially is.”
Olsen isn’t ready to make any sort of decision.
“I try not to make rash decisions in tough times. I feel like it’s always easy to jump to decisions when you’re feeling down and you’re frustrated,” he said. “We’ll come to that. I’ve got to get this foot put back together a little bit. It’s been a long time since my foot has been normal. When we started this off, we said were going to do the best we could. I didn’t know if it was going to last one week or the whole season.
“We got about as far as we could have asked, I guess. It’s a tough way to end there.”
Marcel Louis-Jacques, 704-358-5015: @Marcel_LJ