- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The concerns are mounting for the Carolina Panthers with the regular season opener less than two weeks away.

Quarterback Cam Newton is still walking gingerly after suffering a hairline fracture in his ribs. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, last year’s AP defensive player of the year, is likely to will start the season with a cast on his sprained right thumb. And starting defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who combined for 26 sacks last season, remain sidelined with injuries.

The Panthers are also trying to figure out what went wrong in a 30-7 loss to New England Patriots on Friday night.

But coach Ron Rivera downplayed those issues on Monday.

“That’s the nature of the game,” said Rivera, the NFL Coach of the Year in 2013. “This could happen in the regular season and we have to adapt. It’s basically the next man up.”

Newton won’t play in Carolina’s preseason finale Thursday night against Pittsburgh.

Rivera offered no update Monday on Newton’s status, reiterating that the Pro Bowl quarterback will be reevaluated at the end of the week.

It’s still unclear if Newton will play in Carolina’s Sept. 7 regular season opener against Tampa Bay. Rivera had said Sunday he expected Newton to play.

Newton was not made available to reporters on Monday.

With backup quarterback Derek Anderson’s wife expecting a baby - she was due on Saturday - and fourth-string quarterback Matt Blanchard out with a concussion, it is possible Joe Webb could be the only quarterback available to play Thursday night.

“We’ll play it by ear,” Anderson said of his plans for Thursday night. “I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going to happen. There’s nothing that we can control. … Hopefully I can be there for both.”

Of course, the preseason is the least of Carolina’s concerns.

The Panthers are already looking ahead to Tampa Bay, spending the two last days game planning for their NFC South rivals behind closed door practices.

Anderson has been working with the starters with Newton looking on closely and taking “mental reps,” according to Rivera.

The Panthers could have worse options at quarterback if Newton can’t play.

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