CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The Panthers will be without starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei for Saturday night's NFC divisional playoff game against Seattle after undergoing surgery Wednesday to repair a broken bone in his foot.
Coach Ron Rivera said Lotulelei injured his foot late in Tuesday's practice. Rivera did not say which foot is injured.
Rivera said Lotulelei wouldn't be available for the NFC championship game, but might be ready to play if the Panthers were to reach the Super Bowl. Carolina would need two road wins to get there.
"We will miss Star, but we have guys that will be able to step in and do a very good job," Rivera said.
Rivera said Wednesday he expects veteran Colin Cole will start alongside Kawann Short.
The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Lotulelei has been critical to the team's improved run defense down the stretch. He has 25 tackles this season, but is important because he takes up double-teams in the middle of the defensive line, allowing All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly a chance to run and make plays. Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season with 153.
Lotulelei's best game came against Atlanta in the season finale when he had seven tackles and two sacks on Matt Ryan as the Panthers clinched the NFC South with a 34-3 win.
"He had a very dominating performance that game, winning at the attack," Rivera said.
"Star has really come on the last few weeks for us and has been playing real well," Kuechly said. "It's unfortunate that he won't be playing. ... It's kind of been the theme to our season. One dude can't play and the next dude has to jump up and play."
Cole has started 10 games this season for the Panthers and had 12 tackles.
"Colin Cole will assume a bigger role for us," Rivera said. "He's been a solid and steady force for us, such a space-eater inside, holds the double team at the point of attack and helps to allow our linebackers to run."
Rivera said Kyle Love could be active against Seattle. He was inactive for Carolina's 27-16 win over Arizona on Saturday night.
Panthers starting wide receiver Philly Brown missed his second straight day of practice with a shoulder injury, but did catch passes on the sideline. Rivera said Brown's status will depend on if he can demonstrate his shoulder is strong enough to allow him to block.
"We don't want to put a guy out there that can't protect himself," Rivera said.
Brenton Bersin would start if Brown can't play. If Brown is out, Rivera said he would consider elevating wide receiver Stephen Hill from the practice squad to be used as the No. 4 receiver.
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