Panthers return to work energized, motivated

The Panthers entered the locker room following practice and the

mood was light and lively, with several players breaking into

scattered wrestling matches around the room.

Quarterback Cam Newton was all smiles, too.

”There was a great vibe at practice today,” Newton said

Wednesday.

The third-year quarterback said the Panthers approached the day

eager to put Sunday night’s 31-13 loss to the Saints behind them,

but not forget the lessons that come with that disappointing and

potential costly defeat.

”We can’t dwell on it,” Newton said. ”With this practice

today it’s great to know these guys are even more motivated.”

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak.

But the Panthers (9-4) still control their own playoff destiny.

Three wins and they’re in the postseason for the first time since

2008.

That chase continues Sunday with a home game against the New

York Jets (6-7), another team with playoff aspirations.

”It’s a great opportunity to go out and really prove to

ourselves who we are,” Newton said.

Coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week that maybe the

Panthers ”got a little full ourselves” after the win streak.

Several players concurred with their coach.

”I feel like we did get a little ahead of ourselves as far as

feeling good,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. ”It happens to the

best of us. When you get something that you really deserve it gives

you a great feeling and you get kind of comfortable in a sense –

not really complacent or content, but kind of comfortable.

”I feel like that is where we were for a second and we learned

our lesson. We got our hand burned.”

Said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: ”Maybe we needed a loss to

come back down to Earth and play some great football again. This

team is very hungry and our goals are still out there so we’re very

excited.”

The Panthers could clinch a playoff berth this week with a

combination of a win over the Jets, losses by San Francisco and

Arizona and a loss or tie by either Dallas or Philadelphia.

On the other hand, a loss to the Jets and victories by San

Francisco and Arizona would suddenly leave the Panthers on the

outside looking in at the playoffs.

”There is a lot on the line this week,” Rivera said.

Despite the rough night in the Big Easy, Carolina’s defense has

still given up the fewest points in the league.

While Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said he hates to lose, the

good thing is it came now instead of in the playoffs so the team

can learn from its mistakes.

”I think we had some things show up that hadn’t been happening

all year,” Mitchell said. ”You have to ask yourself why those

things happened. Our coaches did that and got that corrected. Hats

off to the Saints. They were the first ones to be able to do it

against us.”

Said Newton: ”Hey, no one is feeling sorry for themselves here.

We have a job at hand and we have to be prepared for the task – and

we will be.”

AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org.