After missing his first game since 2014 in Week 5, a 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is on track to start Sunday, reports Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. Newton, who succumbed to a concussion late in the Panthers’ Week 4 defeat in Atlanta, was a full participant in practice Thursday. The NFL’s reigning MVP will need medical clearance before returning to game action, but head coach Ron Rivera said he “so far” looks primed to suit up against the Saints.
The Panthers didn’t necessarily struggle to move the ball without Newton this past Monday, as they combined for 414 total yards, but they had difficulty scoring and backup signal-caller Derek Anderson threw two interceptions. The defending NFC champions shockingly dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in their division in the process.
Next up for the Panthers is a road tilt against another NFC South opponent, 1-3 New Orleans, in a hugely important game for both teams. Carolina seems more likely to rebound from its poor start than the Saints are from theirs, though a fourth straight defeat would make rallying to overtake the 4-1 Falcons in the division or at least grab a wild-card spot all the more difficult for the Panthers.
In addition to Newton, another integral offensive piece – running back Jonathan Stewart – should return against the Saints, according to Person. Stewart hasn’t suited up since the Panthers’ 46-27 win over the 49ers in Week 2, when he departed with a hamstring injury. He and Newton were among the driving forces behind the Panthers’ success last season, but they’ve taken steps back in the early going this year. Having tossed five interceptions, Newton is already halfway to last season’s 16-game total. He has also experienced a drop-off in most other major statistical categories after combining for 45 touchdowns and nearly 4,500 yards as a passer and rusher in 2015. Stewart, meanwhile, has picked up just 73 yards on 20 carries.
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