NFL: DEC 22 Panthers at Colts
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While Christian McCaffrey made significant strides in his return to the field this week, the star Carolina Panthers running back will not play against the Atlanta Falcons on "Thursday Night Football" after the team did not activate him off injured reserve by Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadliner. McCaffrey was already considered a long shot to suit up but will now officially be ineligible to return until Week 9.

The running back made his return to practice this week after the team designated him to come off the reserve/injured list on Tuesday. The 24-year-old has missed the previous five games due to a high ankle sprain he suffered against the Buccaneers in Week 2.

Earlier in the week, head coach Matt Rhule noted that he was hopeful McCaffrey would be able to play against Atlanta but also said the team would be smart about how they handle his return from injury and that "it won't be a minute too early."

"I think he was excited and exhilarated to be out there today, to be out there with his teammates, to have a chance to practice," Rhule said, via the official team website. "I know he wants to play, but I also know he's a process guy and understands that we can't shortcut the process." 

Through two games this season, McCaffrey has recorded 223 yards from scrimmage and four rushing touchdowns. While he's certainly one of the league's top backs, the Carolina backfield has been playing extremely well in his absence thanks to fellow running back Mike Davis. The former 2015 fourth-round pick has piled up 442 yards from scrimmage over his previous five starts and added four total touchdowns. 

As McCaffrey eyes a potential Week 9 return against the Chiefs in Kansas City, the Panthers will look to reach .500 on the season as they square off against the Falcons on Thursday night.