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What we learned: Injury-marred Panthers pull off win

The Panthers entered the 2016 season with a streak of 32 consecutive games over 100 rushing yards — the longest such stretch since 1976. Since that streak came to an end in early October, they have been held under the century mark five more times. Lead back Jonathan Stewart turned back the clock for a season-high 132 yards in Week 15, but has otherwise averaged a problematic 3.6 yards per carry. Due nearly $6 million in 2017, Stewart will be a 30-year-old back with too much mileage under his belt, diminishing speed and a lengthy injury history.

Whether or not Stewart is retained, general manager Dave Gettleman has to place a priority on finding his successor. Scat back Fozzy Whittaker is limited to change-of-pace duty and kickoff returns, while 2015 fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne has yet to crack the rotation. It’s past time to add a dynamic playmaking element to this backfield.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Carolina Panthers signed the free-agent safety to a one-year contract, per a source with knowledge of the move. The team later confirmed the deal.

Brown was out of football last season after stints with the Giants, Colts and jerseys cheap and Raiders. He started 19 games for New York between 2012 and 2014 and spent part of the 2011 offseason with the Panthers before reuniting with the team this week.

After the Panthers placed and then suddenly rescinded their franchise tag on Norman, the All-Pro signed a five-year deal with Washington, becoming the most valuable cornerback in the league at $15 million a year. Norman’s absence in Carolina’s secondary was immediately felt at the start of the season, most notably against the Falcons during Julio Jones’ 300-yard game, and has haunted Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman throughout the year. Meanwhile, the corner is having quite a nice season in Landover — he’s the 18th-ranked cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus — and is proving wrong those who suggested he was a product of a Carolina game plan that kept him away from top-tier wideouts.jerseys

Of course, Norman has a massive chip on his shoulder, saying earlier this week that he’s as eager to match up against his former team “just as much as I’m looking forward to being Santa Claus.” Whatever that means. We expect the quips to keep coming on Monday night and to see some fireworks from both sides when Norman lines up against Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn and Carolina’s receiving corps.

This is another heartbreaking loss for New Orleans. Twice in the last four days, the Saints have outgained an opponent but lost because of special teams miscues and turnovers. The Panthers converted two Drew Brees turnovers into 10 points and another blocked kick off the Saints into a touchdown before halftime. Carolina’s offense was erratic otherwise.

Oher’s absence is a particularly painful one, as it weakens the line at two spots. To replace Oher, the Panthers shift right tackle Mike Remmers over to the left side while Daryl Williams takes over as the right tackle.

Making matters worse, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl center left tonight’s game with a shoulder injury and never returned. The same injury caused him to miss the two games leading up to this Thursday night. In his stead, 340-pound guard Chris Scott took his first snaps at center.

The improvement of the Panthers defensive front has made all the difference in aiding the youthful corner group. Carolina enters the week tied for the most sacks in the NFL (40) with the Denver Broncos.

Jones got back on the practice field this week for Atlanta and should return after missing the past two games. With the game-changing receiver on the field, the Panthers defensive backs have a chance to prove how big a stride they’ve made in the course of 12 weeks. Even with an improving group, McDermott knows he has his hands full with the most diverse offensive attack in the NFL.