Panthers injuries mounting at running back

Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart (28) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Mitchell (23) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The injuries continue to mount in the Carolina Panthers' backfield.

Coach Ron Rivera said Monday that bruising Pro Bowl fullback Mike Tolbert will miss Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with a hairline fracture in his left leg and running back Jonathan Stewart will be reevaluated on Friday with a severely sprained right knee.

Rivera said while the injuries are another setback for Carolina's struggling running game, he added that the MRIs on the players indicated ''nothing is catastrophic - and that's the best part.''

Both injuries were sustained in a lopsided 37-19 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.

Rivera also said outside linebacker Thomas Davis would be reevaluated on Friday, but wouldn't specify the nature of his injury.

Running back was one of the deepest positions on the roster entering the season, but just three weeks in general manager Dave Gettleman could be forced to look outside the organization for help.

The Panthers were already dangerously thin in the backfield coming into the Steelers game with starting running back DeAngelo Williams and third-string back Fozzy Whittaker out with hamstring injuries. Rivera said he hopes to get Williams back to practice on Wednesday.

The only healthy running back on the roster is undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves, who was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday as an emergency option.

Richie Brockel will take over at fullback against the Ravens in Tolbert's spot.

Carolina's running game ranks 29th in the league, averaging just 72.3 yards per game on the ground. That's a huge drop off from 2013 when the NFC South champions averaged 126.6 yards on the ground and ran for at least 100 yards in 15 of 16 games.

With Stewart starting for Williams, the Panthers failed to establish against the Steelers' 29th-ranked run defense. Stewart was limited to 31 yards on five carries. As a team, the Panthers were outrushed 264-42 by the Steelers.

''We didn't block good enough, all of us,'' tight end Greg Olsen said. ''It's pretty simple. ... Even when we did get the running game going it seemed like every positive run was negated by a penalty. We've got to stop hurting ourselves.''

Rivera said Carolina's running game struggles are due in part to the injuries to quarterback Cam Newton.

The NFL's most productive rushing quarterback over the past three seasons with 2,032 yards rushing and 28 TDs has been handcuffed by ankle and rib injuries. In fact, the Panthers didn't call any designed runs for Newton on Sunday night and he was limited to 7 yards on two carries.

Newton said he ''wasn't asked to run'' against the Steelers.

Rivera said the Panthers want to limit the number of shots Newton takes on the field. He estimated Newton was hit nine or 10 times by the Steelers, which included three sacks.

''We know he is a big part of what we do,'' Rivera said of Newton, who is Newton is on pace to rush for 384 yards this season - well behind his career average of 677. ''The thing it shows is we can't rely on him all of the time. Now we have to find other answers and other ways to (run the ball) - and the coaching staff is working on that.''

When asked if the Panthers can be an effective running team without Newton, Rivera said ''we're going to have to be.''

Carolina's leading rusher after three games is Stewart with 88 yards on 29 carries, a 3-yard average.

''Right now he's not quite where we need him,'' Rivera said of Newton. ''He will get there. The thing we have to do in the meantime is (everybody else) has to pick it up.''

Rivera that includes the offensive line, which he said needs to be more physical and ''play with more attitude.''

The Panthers were looking for their first 3-0 start since 2003, the year they went to the Super Bowl.

Instead, they'll head into Sunday looking to stay above .500 against another tough, physical AFC North defensive opponent in the Ravens - a team that beat the Steelers 26-6 just two weeks ago.

''That's the one thing about the NFL: It's a long year,'' Olsen said. ''We're 2-1. We're going to play a very good team next week that's coming off of two back-to-back wins. They beat the team we just lost to pretty good. ... We have to get back and fix our mistakes first before we worry about who we're going to play.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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