The Carolina Panthers took a cautious approach with a couple of their key injured players against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday with an eye on having them healthy for the stretch run.
Tight end Greg Olsen was held out after aggravating his surgically repaired foot in the 31-21 loss in New Orleans, and outside linebacker Thomas played only 39 percent of the defensive snaps because of a hamstring issue.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the artificial surface at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome played a role in the decision to sit Olsen. The team didn’t want him to suffer another setback that might have sidelined him the rest of the season.
The Panthers (8-4) have two games to make up on the Saints (9-4) – a game in the standings, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker – with four to play. They remain in good position for a wild-card berth depending on how they finish, beginning this week against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2).
“We had played well without Greg. To not force a guy to play and put a guy in a negative situation, you’ve got to take everything into account,” Rivera said. “You look at the long run, the big picture. But also he wasn’t healthy enough that you wanted to put him back out there.”
Rivera thinks the three-game homestand on the grass surface at Bank of America Stadium could be beneficial to players dealing with lower-body injuries. In addition to Olsen and Davis, linebacker Shaq Thompson and center Tyler Larsen also are dealing with foot injuries.
“It’s tough when you play on turf, that artificial surface. It’s tough on the body. It’s tough on the feet, the ankles, the knees, the joints,” Rivera said. “We’ll see. Hopefully we can pick a couple of those guys back up and we’ll go from there.”
Davis, 34, played a season-low 25 snaps (out of a possible 64) and finished with two tackles, which tied for his season-low. Rivera said the Panthers didn’t want to overdo it with their longest-tenured player.
“We were trying to be very aware of that,” Rivera said. “TD’s an explosive player. He made some plays for us and unfortunately we couldn’t have him out in his usual role.”
Thompson aggravated his foot injury in the first half against the Saints, and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks wasn’t sure he’d play in the second half. But Thompson remained in the game and had a protective boot on his foot in the locker room, though he said he’s OK.
Rivera said left tackle Matt Kalil, who was called for three penalties vs. Saints edge rusher Cameron Jordan, played all 57 snaps on offense despite being sick.
“(Kalil) came in just before the game and got some medicine, had an IV,” Rivera said. “And he gutted it out and played every snap.”
Larsen also played the whole game and had a protective boot on his left foot Monday. Larsen, who’s been dealing with his foot issue for several weeks, said the boot was a precautionary measure.