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Carolina Panthers operating as if Sam Darnold out for season, will give Cam Newton chance to win 2022 starting job, sources say

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The Carolina Panthers announced that Sam Darnold is out four to six weeks with a shoulder injury, but the team is operating as if the quarterback will not play again this season, league sources tell ESPN.

One source told ESPN this past week that the Panthers “know Sam is out for the season,” which contributed to Carolina signing quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year contract that essentially guarantees him $6 million.

Once the Panthers knew Darnold was out indefinitely, they identified Newton as the best quarterback to help them reach the postseason out of the NFC South. Carolina (4-5) has lost four of its last five games but enters Sunday just 2.5 games behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2).

Newton’s contract has $4 million in incentives tied strictly to the playoffs. The former NFL MVP collects $500,000 for each playoff win in which he plays at least 50% of the game, another $1.5 million if Carolina reaches the Super Bowl and he plays in 50% of the offensive snaps, and a $1 million bonus if he is selected Super Bowl MVP, according to sources.

But more importantly, Newton will have a chance to cement his status as Carolina’s starter for the remainder of this year and potentially the 2022 season as well, sources tell ESPN. If Newton plays well this season, he would become the favorite to be Carolina’s starting quarterback in 2022.

The Panthers officially placed Darnold on injured reserve Saturday. An MRI this past week revealed Darnold had an incomplete fracture of the scapula on his right (throwing) shoulder.

P.J. Walker will start Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, but Newton is expected to take over as Carolina’s starter once he has a better grasp of the offense and is in playing shape, which could come as early as the Panthers’ Week 11 home game against his former head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team.

The Panthers selected Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and released him following the 2019 season after he had struggled for several years with shoulder and foot injuries. The 2015 league MVP started 15 games for the New England Patriots in 2020 before being released in training camp this year after New England decided to go with rookie Mac Jones as the starter.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers left guard Ali Marpet (abdomen) downgraded to out vs. Indianapolis Colts

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without starting left guard and arguably one of their best offensive linemen, Ali Marpet, when they face the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, the team announced.

Marpet, who sustained an abdominal injury in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the New York Giants, was downgraded to out Saturday prior to the team’s departure for Indianapolis.

He was initially going to be a game-time decision, but was listed on Friday’s injury report as doubtful.

Marpet was replaced in the game by Aaron Stinnie, who filled in for Alex Cappa last year during the playoffs when Cappa suffered a broken leg in the wild-card game at Washington.

In 51 snaps against the Giants, Stinnie surrendered one sack, and last year, he surrendered only one sack in the postseason — in the NFC Championship game against Kenny Clark.

Marpet’s 74.6% run block win rate is the highest of any offensive lineman on the team, as is his 92.5% pass blocking win rate.

The Colts, meanwhile, have given up 19.5 points per game over the last six games — eighth-best in the league.

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Short-handed Pittsburgh Steelers will take on Cincinnati Bengals without cornerback Joe Haden

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers placed two players on the injured reserve list Saturday, and downgraded another to out for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers ruled out cornerback Joe Haden, downgraded from questionable with a mid-foot sprain, and they put tight end Eric Ebron and center/guard J.C. Hassenauer on IR.

Ebron injured a knee last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, apparently during his fourth-quarter touchdown. He is expected to miss extended time with surgery, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler earlier this week.

Ebron was a co-starter along with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. He has had a reduced role this season with just 12 catches for 84 yards and a receiving touchdown as well as a rushing TD.

Hassenauer, who was starting in place of guard Kevin Dotson, injured a pectoral muscle early in the loss to the Chargers. Tackle Joe Haeg replaced Hassenauer a week ago, but the Steelers are likely to turn to B.J. Finney, a veteran interior offensive lineman, to replace him in the long term.

With both Dotson and Hassenauer now on IR, the Steelers signed practice squad offensive lineman John Leglue to the active roster.

The team also elevated defensive lineman Daniel Archibong and wide receiver Anthony Miller ahead of Sunday’s game, and signed kicker Sam Sloman to the practice squad.

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Tennessee Titans place wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve

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The Tennessee Titans placed wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve on Saturday ahead of their matchup with the New England Patriots.

Brown suffered chest, rib and hand injuries during last week’s 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans. He played 40 offensive snaps and finished with five receptions for 48 yards on nine targets.

“Walking by faith as always. GOD makes no mistakes,” Brown posted on social media after the news broke that is headed for IR.

Brown will now be out for the next three weeks. The earliest that Brown will be able to return is when Tennessee faces the San Francisco 49ers on Dec 23 on Thursday night football.

In 10 games, Brown has 46 receptions for 615 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed Tennessee’s Week 4 loss to the New York Jets because of a knee injury.

The Titans signed veteran free agent receiver Golden Tate to their practice squad last Tuesday. But they did not elevate him to the active roster after he practiced with the team on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Titans will likely turn to rookie Dez Fitzpatrick to start in place of Brown. Tennessee utilized the COVID elevation to make receiver Cody Hollister available to them on Sunday against the Patriots.

Hollister joins Fitzpatrick, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers as the wide receivers that will be available for quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday.

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