Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson was on crutches with a brace on his right knee Wednesday. But the consensus around Bank of America Stadium was that it could have been worse.

Johnson was injured in the third quarter Monday night in the 24-20 win against New England when Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon leg-whipped him but was not penalized. He was carted to the locker room and sat out a couple of series before returning for the Patriots’ last drive.

An MRI exam on Tuesday revealed a sprained MCL. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Johnson was relieved he had not torn any ligaments.

“We’re very fortunate. He sprained it and we’ll see as each day goes on. We’ll re-evaluate after three days and see how he’s reacting to the treatment,” Rivera said. “The biggest thing is he’s really sore right now. It’s about getting the soreness and the swelling out more so than anything else.”

Johnson’s status is week-to-week, and it seems unlikely he would play Sunday at Miami. Rivera compared the injury to the knee sprain sustained by backup tight end Ben Hartsock, who missed the Patriots’ game but could be back this week.

Mario Addison, Frank Alexander and undrafted rookie Wes Horton are the candidates to replace Johnson, who is second in the NFC with 8.5 sacks and has 21 sacks in his past 23 games.

“He’s playing very well right now,” Rivera said. “He’s playing about as well as any defensive end in this league.”

Final word on final play: Lost in the controversy surrounding the pass interference call/no-call on the last play against New England was this: middle linebacker Luke Kuechly’s failure to play the ball against tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Kuechly, who had a costly pass interference penalty during Buffalo’s game-winning drive in Week 2, lined up 15 yards off the line of scrimmage and ended up essentially face-guarding Gronkowski on Tom Brady’s pass.

“If I was going to scrutinize anything about that play, I would like to have seen Luke trust himself a little bit more. He was in great position,” Rivera said. “As a coach looking at it, the only thing I would’ve told him is just get your head around. Because he was on the hip, he was underneath and he was in the throwing lane.”

Kuechly is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, all of which were on short passes. Kuechly agreed his technique could have been better on the much-discussed play against the Patriots.

“If I get my head around sooner, I can see the ball,” Kuechly said. “That’s what you’ve got to do moving forward.”