With little preparation time before their Thursday night game, the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons are expecting some significant changes when they meet in an NFC South matchup.
The Panthers are likely to have All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey back after more than a month's absence caused by a high ankle sprain. The Falcons simply want to put another forgettable result behind them and move on.
The teams will face off for the second time this season -- with notable personnel adjustments since the first get-together -- when they meet in Charlotte, N.C.
McCaffrey hasn't played since the second week of the season. The Panthers (3-4) are in a need of a boost to re-ignite their fortunes following consecutive losses in the wake of a three-game winning streak.
The Panthers announced Tuesday that McCaffrey has been designated to return from injured reserve.
"As soon as they say he can go, he'll go," coach Matt Rhule said. "I'm hopeful that we'll have him."
The addition of McCaffrey would provide the Panthers with more options on offense to go with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been largely efficient. The Panthers have taken pride in some of their lengthy drives.
"If we can just continue to do our part to help our defense stay fresh and locked and loaded, I think we'll continue to complement each other," Bridgewater said. "The offense will complement the defense. The defense will complement the offense and special teams."
Carolina's defense experienced multiple breakdowns Sunday in a 27-24 loss at New Orleans, allowing the Saints to convert on 12 of 14 third-down situations.
"We just have to be able to help our offense out," Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson said.
Carolina wound up losing when Joey Slye's 65-yard field-goal attempt fell just short on the team's final offensive snap.
The Falcons came one play away from improving to 2-0 under interim coach Raheem Morris, who said the team needs to recover emotionally from the latest result -- a one-point loss to the Lions. Detroit drove 75 yards in 1:04 and scored the winning touchdown (and extra point) with no time remaining.
"We have to find ways to play better at those moments," Morris said of when the game is on the line. "It always comes down to making that big play at that big moment."
As for getting over the latest frustrating finish, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said of the short week of preparation, "I think getting back into a game plan quickly kind of helps."
Morris believes there were encouraging parts of the first meeting with the Panthers, who won that matchup 23-16 on Oct. 11 in Atlanta.
"We played the Panthers really well last time," Morris said. "There are such small windows for error in the National Football League, and we have to clean those things up."
The Falcons are optimistic that all of their ailing players will be fit to play by Thursday night. Only defensive end Takk McKinley was held out of practice on Tuesday.
"We have to get back to our 1-0 mentality," Morris said of concentrating on the next game.
Not all of Carolina's injury problems are solved on offense. Left tackle Russell Okung (calf) and right guard John Miller (ankle) have missed practice time this week. Miller took part on a limited basis in Tuesday's workout.
The Panthers are 1-2 against NFC South foes after facing each of the other teams once. The outcome in the first Carolina-Atlanta game pushed the Falcons to an 0-5 record, prompting the firing of coach Dan Quinn.
"We've got an Atlanta team coming into town that I'm pretty sure after we played them, they felt they may have been one or two plays away from tying the game or beating us, so we have to make sure that we have the right mindset going into this game that nothing's going to be handed to us," Bridgewater said.
"We're going to make sure that we attack this week with the right mindset and be smart," Bridgewater added. "It's a quick turnaround, but no one's going to feel sorry for you once you get out there."
--Field Level Media