Panthers' defensive line might be thin with both tackles still hurting

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers could be without both of their 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 is 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 Lewis and Kemoeatu 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 off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad Tuesday.

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 over the Panthers.

The Saints, however, are primarily a passing team. Drew Brees needs 402 passing yards 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 the St. Louis Rams, would drop the Panthers to the No. 5 seed and force them to play at Arizona in the first round next week.

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (foot) and tight end Jeff King (knee) practiced Friday and are listed as probable.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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