BOSTON (CBS) — The Carolina Panthers received some encouraging news about two of their most noteworthy offensive players ahead of their matchup against the Patriots on Sunday.

Star running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been sidelined since Week 3 with a hamstring injury, was activated off the injured reserve on Saturday. The Panthers say they are hopeful he’ll play after practicing this week.

Also, quarterback Sam Darnold has cleared concussion protocols on Saturday. He was on the injury report this week with a shoulder injury, and it will be a game-time decision as to whether he will start. Backup P.J. Walker will start if Darnold is unable to go.

McCaffrey was officially placed on IR in Week 6 after dealing with a lingering hamstring injury for a few weeks. He has run for 201 yards and a touchdown in his three games this season, adding another 163 yards off 16 receptions.

“He’s one of the most explosive players in the league,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of McCaffrey on Wednesday. “He can score from anywhere.”

In 2019, McCaffrey became third player in NFL history to record over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, joining Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig. The All-Pro signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Panthers prior to the 2020 season.

The Panthers staff say they are going to evaluate him again on Sunday morning to make sure he’s set to play. McCaffrey has missed 18 of 24 games due to injury since singing his most recent deal.

As for Darnold, it’s been a rough go of it since a strong start to the season. Overall, the 24-year-old has thrown seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight starts this year. If he doesn’t start, Walker will make the second start of his NFL career. Last year, he threw for 258 yards and a touchdown in a 20-0 victory over Detroit.

The 4-4 Patriots are looking for their third consecutive win. Kickoff in Charlotte is set for 1 p.m.

Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Panthers game on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Tune in Friday at 7pm for Patriots All Access, while Patriots GameDay kicks off Sunday’s coverage at 11:30am. The Patriots-Panthers follow at 1pm, and after the game stick with WBZ for full reaction and analysis on Patriots Fifth Quarter!

CBSBoston.com Staff