Matt Rhule 'hopeful' Christian McCaffrey can play Thursday after RB returns to Panthers practice

Jason Owens
·2 min read

Carolina Panthers fans and fantasy managers are anxiously awaiting the return of Christian McCaffrey.

There’s a chance they may get their wish this week.

The Panthers designated McCaffrey from injured reserve on Tuesday, green-lighting his return to practice and opening a 21-day window for his placement on the active roster. It does not mean that he’ll be ready to play Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Panthers will ‘be smart’ about McCaffrey’s return

McCaffrey practiced Tuesday, and head coach Matt Rhule left the door open for his return for Thursday night’s game, if ever so cautiously.

“I’m hopeful,” Rhule told reporters. “I’ll have to see how he responds to getting back out there. It won’t be a minute too early. We’ll be smart.”

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) rushes for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. The Panthers are eager to get Christian McCaffrey back on the field after he has missed four games with a high ankle sprain. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Christian McCaffrey has returned to practice, but that doesn't mean he'll be ready to play on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

McCaffrey hasn’t played since Week 2

The 2019 All-Pro and NFL leader in yards from scrimmage hasn’t played since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was initially given a 4-to-6-week timetable to return. Thursday’s game falls at the end of that timetable.

The Panthers (3-4) are a long shot to compete for a wild-card berth in a playoff field that will be extended to seven games in each conference this season. The Panthers are motivated to return one of the league’s most explosive offensive weapons.

But protecting McCaffrey’s health and making sure he doesn’t return too soon is the priority. The emergence of running back Mike Davis in his stead makes that patience easier.

Davis has averaged 88.4 yards from scrimmage and tallied four touchdowns since taking over the starting running back role in Week 3 as the Panthers have gone 3-2 in McCaffrey’s absence.

If McCaffrey can’t go Thursday, a Week 9 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs would be his next opportunity to play.

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