Friday, December 26, 2008.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers could be without both starting defensive tackles for Sunday's game at New Orleans, perhaps enticing the pass-happy Saints to run the ball.
Damione Lewis missed practice for a third straight day Friday with a shoulder injury and was listed as doubtful. Maake Kemoeatu practiced on a limited basis and is questionable with a sprained right ankle that kept him out of last week's loss to the New York Giants.
If they can't play, Darwin Walker is expected to start at one tackle spot. The other position would be filled either by rookie Nick Hayden or J'Vonne Parker. Hayden was on Carolina's practice squad last week. Parker was signed Tuesday off Atlanta's practice squad.
Lewis and Kemoeatu are major factors in Carolina's run defense. With Kemoeatu sidelined last Sunday and Lewis leaving in the fourth quarter, the Giants rushed for 301 yards in a 34-28 overtime win.
The Saints, however, are primarily a passing team. Drew Brees needs 402 yards passing Sunday to break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084.
"They're capable of running the ball. They have a big offensive line," Panthers coach John Fox said. "They might try to run it. If I was watching last week's tape I might, too."
The injuries come as the Panthers (11-4) prepare for a critical game. They need to beat the Saints (8-7) to guarantee the No. 2 seed in the NFC, a first-round bye in the playoffs, and a second-round home game. A loss, combined with an Atlanta win over St. Louis, would drop the Panthers to the No. 5 seed and would force them to play at Arizona in the first round next week.
Receiver Muhsin Muhammad (foot) and tight end Jeff King (knee) practiced Friday and are listed as probable.