As the injuries mount at running back for the Carolina Panthers, coach Ron Rivera might be forced to start his most effective running back.
Usual starter DeAngelo Williams injured his right hand in the second half of Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and did not return. Asked if it was broken, Williams said, “You’d have to ask the trainers.”
Williams rushed seven times for 21 yards, but Jonathan Stewart was the star in the backfield. He rushed for a season-high 85 yards on 12 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per attempt.
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Stewart said after the loss.
Rivera has stuck with Williams despite Stewart seeming to be the more effective back.
“I like what Jonathan did today, and again, we’ll continue to use our backs the way that we’re using them,” Rivera said. “He did some things really well and we’re just going to have to go back and look at all of these things and figure some things out as we go forward.”
The Panthers rushed for a season-high 178 yards, surpassing 150 yards for the first time all season.
And in his first action since being activated from the temporary injured reserve, fullback Mike Tolbert had two carries for 5 yards and two catches for no yards.
Sweet victory: Minnesota cornerback Captain Munnerlyn tried to be tactful, but his smile spoke volumes.
Munnerlyn used to play for the Panthers, and though he didn’t need anything special to get up for his first game against his former team, comments last week by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman didn’t hurt.
Norman told the Observer that Munnerlyn was not willing to help him when they were teammates. Munnerlyn responded by saying those comments were a “slap in the face.”
Hence the smile.
“I would say this feels really good,” Munnerlyn said. “I can fly back to Charlotte – I have a house there – and I can talk trash the rest of the year.”
Munnerlyn said he heard some things from the Panthers sidelines, former teammates trying to distract him.
And Norman? Munnerlyn said he didn’t talk to him but admitted the victory was that much sweeter given Norman’s comments.
“Definitely, definitely,” Munnerlyn said.
Career day? Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 15 of 21 passes for a modest 138 yards, but he threw two touchdown passes, was not intercepted, and finished with his first passer rating above 100 (120.7). It was the third-highest single-game passer rating for a Minnesota rookie (the others were set by a Hall of Famer named Fran Tarkenton).
“I see his progression,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “There were a couple times he had the right look defensively and went to the right place even though it wasn’t the safest throw.”
• Fox cameras showed the ball boys using sideline heaters to heat game balls during the game. Former NFL referee and Fox analyst Mike Pereira said both sidelines were doing it and that it’s not allowed.
• Kickoff temperature was 12 degrees, which officially is the second-coldest game in Panthers’ history.
• Undrafted rookie guard Andrew Norwell had perhaps the best day of all of the linemen. He pulled well when asked and held his own at left guard.
By the numbers
2 Sacks for Luke Kuechly, who had four in his career entering the game.
7.1 Yards per rushing attempt for Jonathan Stewart.
120.7 Passer rating for Teddy Bridgewater, a career high for the rookie.
453 Games since the Vikings had returned a blocked punt for a touchdown before returning two Sunday.
• “Anytime you get two scores (by returns) you’re time of possession is going to be a little out of whack. I’ll take that any day.” – Minnesota coach Zimmer.
• “If we dwell on this and don’t move forward, that’s just going to eat away at the team and grow like a cancer.” – Carolina linebacker A.J. Klein.
• “You know the conditions weren’t too bad. If you ask me, this is football. It was fun playing out there in the cold.” – Minnesota wide receiver Jarius Wright.
• “Honestly, I don’t really see it until the very last second. I’m just focused on catching the ball, holding it and kicking it. I don’t even see them coming.” – Carolina punter Brad Nortman.
Correspondent Kent Youngblood contributed.