NFL Wire News

‘We control the moment’: Panthers still in division race

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Most NFL coaches give their players some extra time off the day after a win. But, after rolling through the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers stuck to the schedule they kept after many of their six straight losses that preceded Sunday’s stunner.

While it was not a typical Victory Monday, the feeling around the building was atypical for a day that over the last two months had become a review of everything that went wrong 24 hours earlier.

“Any time you win it feels different,” coach Ron Rivera said. “Believe me, everything feels different. It tastes different, it feels different, things sound different. You guys (in the media) are nicer. That’s all part of it. It lifts everybody’s spirits.”

Even center Ryan Kalil, who has been battling an illness since late last week, was feeling somewhat better. It helped that the game film showed arguably the team’s most complete performance of the season.

“You watch the tapes from the losses before, and it’s, ‘OK, we’re doing good, doing good — missed a catch, missed a block, missed a read.’ Everybody kind of took turns doing that, and yesterday that didn’t happen,” Kalil said. “Everybody took turns catching the ball, making a good pass, making a great block, finishing on a play.”

Amazingly, the Panthers (4-8-1), who won for the first time in 63 days, are still very much in the playoff hunt. If Atlanta loses Monday night in Green Bay — a game Rivera said he will watch and “cheer for the right team” — Carolina will be a half-game behind the Falcons and Saints (5-8) in the NFC South, with three games to play.

The Panthers finish up with home games against the Bucs and Browns before their season finale in Atlanta. But the big picture does not matter much if the Panthers don’t follow Sunday’s win with another this weekend against the Bucs, the only team in the division that is out of the playoff picture.

“The thing we talked about is not looking at the end, but looking at the race,” Rivera said. “We control what we can, and right now we control the moment.”

NOTES: QB Cam Newton had his fourth career game with at least 200 passing yards, multiple touchdown passes, 80 rushing yards and a touchdown run. His four such games are the most in NFL history. … RB Jonathan Stewart had a career-best 69-yard touchdown run. His 155 rushing yards were the second most of his career (206 vs. the New York Giants on Dec. 27, 2009). … WR Philly Brown suffered a shoulder sprain in the fourth quarter. He is day-to-day. … TE Greg Olsen had a career-high 10 receptions for 72 yards. Olsen now has 850 receiving yards, which breaks his team record (843 in 2012) for most receiving yards by a tight end.

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — Five weeks after Cam Newton had one of the worst games of his career, the quarterback had one of his best. In Carolina’s Week 9 loss to the Saints, Newton set career lows in completions (10), completion percentage (35.7) and passer rating (39.4). During Sunday’s rematch, he was 21 of 33 for 226 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had a season-best 114.0 passer rating. Newton’s favorite target was TE Greg Olsen, who caught a career-high 10 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A — RB Jonathan Stewart ran for 155 yards, the second-highest total of his career. His 69-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter was the longest rush of his career. The Panthers piled up 271 rushing yards, the third-most in team history.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-plus — Saints QB Drew Brees had a passer rating (69.7) under 70 for just the third time in 18 meetings with the Panthers. His 235 passing yards were his third fewest against Carolina since he had 231 on in October 2008. Rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere picked up his first interception in his first start at outside corner. Rookie safety Tre Boston played well in place of benched veteran Thomas DeCoud. The Panthers sacked Brees just twice, but they had good pressure throughout.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus — Saints RB Mark Ingram, who burned the Panthers for two touchdowns and 100 yards on a career-high 30 carries in Week 9, was held to 43 yards on 10 attempts this week. After allowing opponents to rush for more than 100 yards in seven of their first nine games, the Panthers have held each of their last four opponents to fewer than 100.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C — A week after they had two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns, the Panthers’ No. 32 punt unit still struggled. The Saints’ Jalen Saunders averaged 22.7 yards on three returns. Kicker Graham Gano made both of his field goal attempts, and seven of his eight kickoffs turned into touchbacks.

–COACHING: A-minus — The Panthers appeared to be a dead team walking after getting blown out in Minnesota. But coach Ron Rivera turned the tables on the now-reeling Saints. The 31-point loss equaled the largest margin of defeat in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. Mike Shula’s offense scored five touchdowns and kicked two field goals in its first 10 possessions. Sean McDermott’s defense allowed the fewest points in the Panthers’ series against the Saints since they allowed 10 on Jan. 3, 2010.


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