Panthers not celebrating playoff berth just yet
The Carolina Panthers aren’t celebrating clinching their first
playoff berth since in five years.
There’s too much at stake this week.
Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship, wrap up a
first-round bye and secure at least one home playoff game by
beating the Atlanta Falcons on the road Sunday.
”The work is not done,” safety Mike Mitchell said. ”We are in
the playoffs, but it’s not time to relax. We can make it a lot
easier for ourselves and earn some rest and let other teams beat
The Panthers (11-4) still have an outside shot to earn the No. 1
seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That
would require a Carolina win, a San Francisco victory over Arizona
and St. Louis beating Seattle.
The Panthers would love to be home for the playoffs where
they’ve won seven straight games.
”There still is business that needs to be taken care of and
there is a lot at stake,” coach Ron Rivera said. ”We have to
start getting ready and getting prepared. It is going to kind of be
a different week with Christmas coming up.
”But we will make the best of it and we will continue to
prepare. We have to get ready for these guys.”
A bye week would give star wide receiver Steve Smith an extra
week to recover from a sprained left knee. Smith injured the knee
in the first quarter of Carolina’s 17-13 win over the Saints and is
listed as doubtful for the Falcons. He did not practice
With Smith in the training room for most of the game, Carolina
was 0 for 9 on third downs and managed just 222 yards on
Newton had a rough day.
He was held to 116 yards passing and had one interception before
going 3 of 5 on the final drive for 65 yards – including the
game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23
seconds left in the game – to salvage the day.
”We have to correct some things on offense,” Rivera said.
Smith isn’t the only one who’d prefer an extra week to allow his
body to heal.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly could certainly use a little rest
after tying an NFL record with 24 tackles and an interception
against the Saints, earning him his second NFC Defensive Player of
the Week award.
”If we can win this week we get a break, and that’s huge,”
Kuechly said. ”It’s going to be tough. The Falcons are a good team
and they have good weapons. They’re much better than their record
The Panthers know they can’t afford to overlook the Falcons
(4-11), even though their postseason hopes ended weeks ago.
A year ago the playoff-bound Falcons came to Charlotte late in
the season and got trounced by a Panthers team with nothing to play
for but pride.
The Panthers suspect the Falcons would surely like to turn the
tables on them this year.
”There is bad blood between us and Atlanta,” Mitchell said.
”It’s a division game and we saw how hard they played against San
Francisco. They are not going to lay down at all. For us to earn
that week off we have to bring our A game.”
Said linebacker Thomas Davis: ”It’s been a long time since this
team has made it to the playoffs. It feels good. I know it feels
great for our fans to be able to celebrate this win, and it feels
great for us as a team. But we still have more work to be
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