The Carolina Panthers will head into a pivotal NFC South battle against the New Orleans Saints without starting defensive end Charles Johnson.
The NFL announced Friday the pass rusher was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Johnson's suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Panthers on Monday, December 25.
"I accept full responsibility," Johnson said in a statement. "I have been recovering from back surgery, dealing with the daily grind of football and mistakenly thought this could help. It was an error in judgement on my part. We have a special group here I wanted to be a part of and felt an obligation to do my part by getting back as soon as possible. I have always prided myself on being a person who does things the right way through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I want to apologize to my team, owner] Mr. [Jerry] Richardson and [Panthers fans for this mistake. Regretfully I have disappointed people, but I promise to come back ready to redeem myself when this suspension is over."
Johnson has started all 11 games this season, compiling 16 tackles and no sacks.
The loss of Johnson is a blow to Carolina's depth, but it still boasts a deep defensive front. Veteran Julius Peppers, who has played just 48 percent of snaps this season, could see an uptick in playing time Sunday. Wes Horton and Mario Addison also come off the edge for the Panthers. Undrafted rookie Bryan Cox Jr., who has appeared in just two tilts, also is likely to get his shot sans Johnson.