Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey will not get a prime-time return from a high ankle sprain, a league source confirmed to ESPN.

The Panthers (3-4) decided not to activate McCaffrey for Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the Atlanta Falcons (1-6), meaning his likely return will be next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

McCaffrey returned to practice Monday and on Tuesday was given a designation to return from injured reserve. But because it was a short week and McCaffrey didn’t get to go through a full practice, the team opted to exercise caution.

NFL Network first reported Thursday that McCaffrey was not expected to play against Atlanta.

McCaffrey suffered the injury during a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay that dropped the Panthers to 0-2. They went 3-2 without the league’s highest-paid back, thanks in large part to journeyman Mike Davis.

Davis averaged more than 100 yards from scrimmage in his first four games before being held to 12 yards rushing and 24 receiving during Sunday’s 27-24 loss at New Orleans.

Where McCaffrey might have helped the most is the running game in the red zone, where Carolina ranks 27th in the NFL in percentage of touchdowns. He scored four rushing touchdowns in the first two games. Davis had only two in five games.

Coach Matt Rhule has blamed Carolina’s red zone woes in large part on the lack of a running game inside the 20.

When asked earlier in the week whether McCaffrey would return this week or next, Rhule said, “It won’t be a minute too early.”

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