That brings me right to the Saturday mailbag question:
@DNewtonESPN: Coach Ron Rivera said this week he has a plan to get starting running back Jonathan Stewart some rest so he’ll be fresh for the playoff run. Stewart has 20 or more carries in seven straight games, which is more than in any stretch in his career, as I’ve mentioned here before. Rivera also said this week he wanted to get Artis-Payne some reps. Payne has been inactive the last four games and he didn’t play the previous week. But if anything were to happen to Stewart, Artis-Payne and not Whittaker would be first up as the every-down back. Whittaker is more of a third-down or passing-situation option. Having said all this, the Panthers will do whatever they need to do to get to 16-0. Winning is the focus. But Rivera understands the value of having Stewart fresh for the playoffs and getting Payne some experience for that “what if?’’ scenario. I asked Rivera directly on Friday if this meant Artis-Payne would be active for Sunday’s game at New Orleans. He gave one of his patented “we’ll see’’ answers. With cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and end Mario Addison (ankle) already ruled out, there could be an extra spot on the active roster for Artis-Payne. The Saints are dreadful against the run, so this would be a great opportunity to get Artis-Payne, the former Auburn star, some work. If this doesn’t happen this week, it surely will during the final three to four weeks.