The New England Patriots may not be facing such a shorthanded Carolina Panthers team Sunday after all.
Ahead of the Week 9 showdown at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the Panthers activated star running back Christian McCaffrey off of injured reserve and announced that starting quarterback Sam Darnold had cleared concussion protocol.
The 25-year-old McCaffrey has appeared in just three games this season for the Panthers -- after playing in three games all of 2020 -- due to a hamstring injury. He's rushed for 201 yards on 52 carries for one touchdown and caught 16 passes for 163 yards and no scores when healthy in 2021.
In McCaffrey's last full campaign, 2019, he became just the third player in NFL history (Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk) to top both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
Darnold, in his first season with the Panthers after beginning his career with the New York Jets, exited last week's game against the Atlanta Falcons due to a concussion. He remains a game-time decision to start, however, due to a right shoulder injury.
If Darnold is unable to go, former XFL quarterback P.J. Walker will make his second career start. The 26-year-old Walker, who played collegiately at Temple, has thrown one touchdown pass and five interceptions over seven appearances with Carolina.
Darnold has thrown seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2021, completing 60.8% of his passes. His 76.8 passer rating is 30th among eligible passers, ahead of only rookies Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and his replacement with the Jets, Zach Wilson.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Darnold is winless in three starts against the Patriots with one touchdown and six interceptions.
The battle of 4-4 teams kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday.