Panthers’ Smith doubtful vs. Atlanta with knee sprain

Dec. 23, 2013 @ 05:42 PM

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith is “highly doubtful” for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons with a left knee sprain, coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

However, Rivera said he’s optimistic Smith will be ready for the playoffs.
The Panthers (11-4) wrapped up a playoff spot Sunday with a 17-13 win over New Orleans. They can clinch the NFC South division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs by beating the Falcons.
Smith had an MRI Monday that revealed a sprained posterior cruciate ligament.
“It was very good news considering the alternative,” Rivera said. “Where he sprained it and the lack of severity there was, that was all positive news. It really was. And I’m excited and very happy for Steve.”
Rivera said he spoke with Smith on Monday.
“He told me he doesn’t feel very good right now, but you know me,” Rivera said. “And we do know Steve. He’s very tenacious and he will do everything he can. He will work very, very hard.”
Rivera said it will be difficult playing without Smith because he draws so much attention from defenses.
Carolina’s offense struggled on Sunday after Smith went out in the first quarter and failed to convert a third down, going 0 for 9. At one point in the second half the Panthers went three-and-out on four straight possessions and managed a combined 16 yards during that span.
The 34-year-old Smith has 64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Smith hasn’t missed a game since Week 17 of the 2010 season.
Players were given the day off Monday.
omenik Hixon replaced Smith at the “X’’ receiver spot and caught a game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton with 23 seconds to help the Panthers clinch their first playoff berth since 2008.
Hixon came into the game with just three receptions all year and no touchdowns.
Rivera said he expects Ted Ginn Jr. will see the majority of reps this week at Smith’s spot, but said Hixon and Brandon LaFell could also see action at the “X’’ spot. Shula said the team is likely to activate wide receiver Marvin McNutt as its No. 4 receiver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos began the season without Von Miller, and they’ll end it without him, too.
Miller’s season is over after tests revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
The best case now is that he’s back for training camp after surgery sometime next month. ACL recoveries generally take 6-9 months.

NEW YORK — The AFC wild-card race has four teams still in the running: the Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers. None can earn the spot outright with a victory next Sunday.
Miami must beat the Jets and have Baltimore lose or tie at Cincinnati; or win and have San Diego win against Kansas City; or tie and have Baltimore lose and San Diego lose or tie; or tie while the Ravens tie and Chargers tie.
Baltimore must win and have San Diego lose or tie; or win and have Miami lose or tie; or tie and have Miami and San Diego lose; or tie and have Miami tie and San Diego lose; or have Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh lose.
The Chargers must win and get losses or ties by Miami and Baltimore, or tie, with losses by Miami and Baltimore.
Pittsburgh must win and have the other three lose.

PHILADELPHIA — Even if a game doesn’t matter much in the standings, the Philadelphia Eagles don’t take nights off.
Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes, LeSean McCoy ran for two scores and the Eagles routed the Chicago Bears 54-11 Sunday night in a matchup of first-place teams with opposite stakes.
Instead of resting his starters for a winner-take-all game at Dallas Sunday night, Chip Kelly didn’t pull them until they finished whipping the Bears (8-7).
Meanwhile, the Bears hardly looked worthy of a playoff spot with a division title on the line.
Now, Chicago must tie or beat the Packers (7-7-1) at home next week to win the NFC North. The Eagles (9-6) must beat or tie the Cowboys (8-7) to win the East. When Dallas beat Washington earlier in the day, the Eagles knew going into their game that a win only affected seeding.
Foles was 21 of 25 for 230 yards, and set a franchise record with a completion percentage of 84.0. He was replaced by Michael Vick midway through the fourth quarter.
McCoy, trying to become the first Eagles player to lead the NFL in rushing since Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren in 1949, ran for 133 yards and leads Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles by 189 going into the last game.

METAIRIE, La. — Saints coach Sean Payton says safety Kenny Vaccaro has a broken left ankle and is scheduled for surgery today.
The injury means the Saints will be without one of their top defensive backs for Sunday’s regular season finale in the Superdome against Tampa Bay — a game the Saints need to win to assure themselves of a playoff spot and to stay alive for NFC South Division title.
Vaccaro, New Orleans’ first-round draft choice this year, was hurt in the first half of Sunday’s 17-13 loss at Carolina. Roman Harper saw more playing time after the injury.
Vaccaro was third on the team in total tackles with 77. He had one interception and also was credited with a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles for losses.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz says he should have kept his thoughts to himself instead of shouting at booing fans.
Schwartz reluctantly acknowledged Monday he did say something to the crowd during the final seconds of the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Giants.
The previous day at his postgame news conference, Schwartz insisted he wasn’t responding to the fans who voiced their displeasure with the decision to play for overtime.
The Lions eliminated themselves from the NFC North title race by losing five of their last six games.
Schwartz says it was tough to see Green Bay and Chicago lose on Sunday because those setbacks would have given the Lions a chance to win the division this week at Minnesota.