CHARLOTTE -- Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers was inactive Saturday because of his sprained right knee, the first time he's missed a start because of injury.
Peppers missed the final four games of his rookie season after violating the league's banned substances policy, but had since started 78 straight games.
His availability for next week's season-finale at Tampa Bay's up in the air, but if they didn't think there was at least a chance he'd play, they'd have already put him on injured reserve as they did with receiver Keary Colbert last week.
Peppers is in the midst of his worst statistical season. He has just three sacks, and his 19 pressures trail 32-year-old Mike Rucker. His 55 tackles are sixth on the team and most among defensive linemen.
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He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Charles Johnson, who played his first game the week before after being inactive the first 13 games.
• NEW RECORD: With his second-quarter touchdown, Panthers receiver Steve Smith became the franchise's all-time leader in TDs.
He had been tied with Muhsin Muhammad and Wesley Walls with 44 coming into the game.
Of his total, 37 were receptions, with six returns and two rushing scores.
It gave him 270 career points, behind John Kasay's 1,149 entering the game.
• MISSING IN ACTION: Vinny Testaverde was the Panthers' inactive third quarterback, preventing him from playing against one of his old teams. He's been vague about his future, but if he decides to retire after 21 years, he could potentially end his career where it began next week with a trip to Tampa Bay. Testaverde was the Bucs' first-round pick in 1987.
Also inactive were Peppers, offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Frank Omiyale, wide receiver Jason Carter, defensive tackle Gary Gibson, linebacker James Anderson and cornerback Patrick Dendy.
Dallas was without a pair of starters, suspended safety Roy Williams and injured center Andre Gurode.
• SWAPPING SAFETIES: The Panthers are still starting journeyman Deke Cooper at free safety, but they obviously have seen something they like in rookie Quinton Teal.
They've begun running Teal and Cooper in and out depending on alignment, with Teal getting most of the looks on obvious passing downs. They like the range of the undrafted rookie from Coastal Carolina, who shows good coverage skills and has played corner in dime situations in recent weeks as well.
• EXTRA POINTS: Uber-agent Drew Rosenhaus watched the game from the press box, huddling briefly with Panthers' contract negotiator Rob Rogers before the game.