Panthers keep evaluating despite quarterback issues

Carolina Panthers quarterback Taylor Heinicke (6) made his first NFL start Sunday, but had to leave with an elbow injury.Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Rivera: “We’re going to be evaluated for this last game, and we’ll be evaluated for the season.”

The Carolina Panthers have more quarterback problems, and it is not making life easier for coach Ron Rivera, whose team has lost seven games in a row.

“We’re all being evaluated,” Rivera said Monday. “We’re going to be evaluated for this last game, and we’ll be evaluated for the season.”

First-year owner David Tepper is doing much of the evaluating, but Rivera said his sessions with Tepper have been productive.

“We’ve sat down, we’ve talked a lot about going forward and the best way to approach things, the best things that you can do in a leadership position,” Rivera said. “I think that’s valuable, when you can have an owner who is going to understand, and look at things and see things and work things out.”

The Panthers (6-9) play the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints have already clinched the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs, so it is unclear whether they will rest some of their starters.

Rivera plans to evaluate some of his younger players on Sunday, which may mean some starters, such as running back Christian McCaffrey, may not play the entire game.

McCaffrey has played 96.95 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps this season, according to the Charlotte Observer, and linebacker Luke Kuechly played 97.67 percent of the defensive snaps.

“What we have to do is we have to be smart with these guys going forward,” Rivera said. “We also have to get an opportunity to evaluate. We have to be realistic. Be honest.”

With quarterback Cam Newton on the injured list, backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke made his first career start in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Atlanta. But he suffered an elbow injury in that game and was scheduled for an MRI on Monday.

Third-string rookie quarterback Kyle Allen is the only other quarterback on the active roster, and the Panthers would rather not activate Newton for the last game.

Allen played a little in Sunday’s game after Heinicke’s injury, but the Panthers may have to sign a quarterback if Heinicke cannot play.

“We’ll see. I don’t want to get into those hypotheticals yet,” Rivera said. “I really won’t have a better feel until later today or probably a good feel of it by Wednesday for sure.”

–QB Kyle Allen, an undrafted rookie out of Houston who had been promoted from the Panthers’ practice squad last week, got in Sunday’s game and completed all four of his passes for 38 yards, including a 24-yard pass to Jarius Wright.

–RB Christian McCaffrey ran for 101 yards and caught 12 passes for 77 more on Sunday. McCaffrey has 106 receptions this season, breaking the NFL record for receptions by a running back (102 for Matt Forte in 2014). He also broke Carolina’s single-season franchise record for most receptions by a Panthers player regardless of position (Steve Smith had 103 in 2005). Finally, McCaffrey became the third player in NFL history to record at least 100 receptions and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season (joining LaDainian Tomlinson and Matt Forte).

–QB Taylor Heinicke was 33 of 53 for 274 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on Sunday in his first career start. He had to leave the game with an elbow injury.

–WR Jarius Wright had season highs in both receptions (seven) and receiving yards (69) in Sunday loss to Atlanta.

–LB Luke Kuechly had six total tackles Sunday, bringing his season total to 130.