Panthers star running back Christian McCaffrey is heading back to injured reserve, the team announced Monday. He’ll miss the remainder of the year.
McCaffrey suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the Panthers’ game against the Dolphins and was seen leaving Hard Rock Stadium in a walking boot.
It’s unclear at what point he suffered the injury, but he played in only one snap in the second half.
“He rolled his ankle so he was trying to go in the second half, but was never quite able to come back to the same level,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Sunday.
Rhule said Monday morning that McCaffrey had an X-Ray on the ankle Sunday night, which came back negative, but wouldn’t know more until later.
An MRI on Monday revealed that the injury was severe enough to place him on IR. The injury will not require surgery, provided it heals properly, according to a source with knowledge of the injury.
McCaffrey’s final rushing attempt came with 4:26 left in the second quarter. He was stood up at the line of scrimmage and never went down. However, he was subbed out of the game and cameras caught him grimacing on the sideline.
McCaffrey’s injury is a major blow to the Panthers, whose season already hangs in the balance. They are 5-7 and have lost two consecutive games.
Seven NFC teams will make the playoffs this season. The Panthers are currently 11th in the standings and are one game behind the seventh-place team.
They suffered perhaps their worst loss Sunday to the Dolphins, 33-10, in a game where the offense wasn’t productive. The Panthers had 198 total yards.
McCaffrey, who did not have a rushing attempt in the second half, finished with 10 rushes for 35 yards and no catches. His zero-catch performance was the first time he hasn’t had a single reception in a game in his five-year career.
When McCaffrey is at his best, so are the Panthers. Because of that, they made him the highest-paid running back in NFL history in April 2020, signing him to a four-year, $64 million contract extension. His contract runs through the 2025 season.
The Panthers are 3-0 this season when he touches the ball 20 times or more.
Before the 2020 season, McCaffrey hadn’t missed a single game in three years and played in the majority of the team’s snaps.
But in the past two years, McCaffrey has spent more time off the field than he has on it.
In 2020, he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2 and missed the next six games. When he returned, he suffered an AC shoulder joint injury in Week 9, and missed the next three games. He was supposed to return after the team’s bye week in Week 13, but suffered a quad injury while rehabbing and did not play in the final four games.
In 2021, he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3, causing him to miss five games. And now he has the latest ankle injury in Week 12.
McCaffrey has missed 18 games in his career because of injuries. By the end of the regular season, McCaffrey will have missed 23 games in two years.
When McCaffrey is not in the lineup, his loss is felt.
In the five games without McCaffrey this season, the Panthers were 1-4. In the seven games with him, they’re 4-3.
McCaffrey has 442 yards rushing on 99 carries and one rushing touchdown this season. He also had 37 receptions for 343 yards and a receiving touchdown.
Now the Panthers will have once again, prepare without him.
Quarterback Cam Newton, who the Panthers signed earlier this month and is still learning the offensive system, will be without his best weapon.
The Panthers will likely lean on rookie running back Chuba Hubbard and backup Ameer Abdullah, who have split backup roles in recent weeks.
Hubbard has 427 yards rushing on 122 carries and three rushing touchdowns. He also has 19 receptions for 152 yards. Abdullah, who the Panthers signed in October, has 95 yards rushing on 28 carries and 16 receptions for 129 yards between Carolina and Minnesota, his previous team.