Stewart finished with 11 rushes for 51 yards in Sunday's 31-26 NFC wild-card loss to the Saints. Stewart's total included an unlikely 29-yard gain to start the second half. With the help of that tote, he was able to average over four yards per carry for just the sixth time in 16 total appearances this season. That fact evidences the 30-year-old's growing limitations, which resulted in just 680 yards on 198 carries during the regular season. Although Stewart did find the end zone seven times, including once on one of his eight receptions, he's clearly not the threat he once was. The veteran's fantasy calling card is his consistent role in Carolina's run-based offense, which afforded him double-digit carries in all but one game. Slated to return to the Panthers for the final year of his contract in 2018, Stewart may continue to see decent volume, but it's obvious Christian McCaffrey is the team's top tailback, and it'd be surprising if the latter's role isn't expanded further in his second season.
Stewart (back) was a full practice participant Thursday, Steve Reed of the Associated Press reports. Stewart was a surprise scratch Week 17 due to a stiff back, which contributed to the Panthers accruing less than 100 rushing yards for just the fourth time during the current campaign. While he isn't the engine that drives the offense, he nonetheless was good for double-digit carries in 13 of his 15 appearances. On Thursday, Stewart told Reed that he's "feeling a lot better" following the recent DNP, so the Panthers likely will resemble their fourth-ranked rushing unit from the regular season this Sunday.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera indicated that he's not concerned about Stewart's (back) availability for Sunday's wild-card matchup with the Saints, Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer reports. "I think Stew will be fine," Rivera said Monday. "He told me he's feeling better already." Stewart was a surprise inactive for the Panthers' Week 17 loss to the Falcons after waking up with back tightness prior to the contest. The running back suggested that he would spend much of the current week rehabbing the injury, which could result in the veteran handling limited workloads in practice. Even if that's the case, Stewart's status for the weekend isn't seemingly in much doubt, setting him up to work in tandem with Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield as the duo has for much of the season. Though Stewart struggled early on in the season with a 2.8 yard-per-carry average over the Panthers' first nine games, he turned the corner in the second half of the campaign. Over his final six appearances, Stewart reeled off two 100-yard rushing efforts and racked up five touchdowns on the ground.
Stewart told David Newton of ESPN.com that he missed Sunday's loss in Atlanta due to stiffness in his back. The 30-year-old running back admitted he felt so much discomfort in his back upon waking up that he likely wouldn't have played if Sunday's game was a playoff tilt. As such, his activity level in practice this week will be key in determining his availability for next Sunday's wild-card matchup at New Orleans. In Week 17, Stewart's absence wasn't exactly a boon to Christian McCaffrey, who notched six rushes for 14 yards and five catches (on eight targets) for 40 yards. Aside from McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne got in the act with 16 yards on five carries while Fozzy Whittaker caught his sole target for nine yards.
Stewart is inactive for the first time this season Sunday against the Falcons, as the running back is dealing with back tightness, Max Henson of the Panthers' official site reports. Stewart missed the first practice of the week due to what was described as a day of rest, but returned to log full sessions Thursday and Friday and did not carry an injury tag heading into the regular-season finale. With Stewart on the shelf for a game with playoff implications, look for Christian McCaffrey to take on the role of lead back, with Cameron Artis-Payne next in line for running back snaps.
|* indicates player did not play that week|
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