Rivera: Panthers might have got full of themselves

Coach Ron Rivera said Carolina’s 31-13 loss to the Saints Sunday

night was ”humbling experience” and could help his team to

refocus as it makes a playoff push.

”Maybe we needed a little bit of that,” Rivera said. ”Maybe

we got a little full of ourselves and thought we were capable of

just showing up.”

Rivera said he thought his team’s energy was good last week but

added, ”I thought we’d know our opponent better and I thought we

would play better situational football. We didn’t. There were some

basic fundamental things that we messed up, or like we like to say,

football 101 things.”

It was Carolina’s most lopsided loss of the season.

But while players were already talking about rematch with the

Saints at home Dec. 22, Rivera said it’s vital the Panthers focus

on preparing for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, a team

with playoff aspirations of their own.

Carolina and San Francisco lead all NFC wild card contenders at

9-4, but Arizona (8-5) and Dallas (7-5) remain in the hunt with

three games left in the regular season.

The loss left the Panthers with a sour taste in their

mouths.

After the game, third-year quarterback Cam Newton said of the

Saints, ”Are they better than us? No.”

Newton has plenty of reason to be motivated.

He was sacked five times and couldn’t get the Panthers in the

end zone until a meaningless fourth quarter TD pass to Steve Smith

cut the Saints lead to 18. The Panthers struggled inside the 20 on

both sides of the ball, and Newton said that can’t happen in big

games.

The Panthers came in with the fourth most efficient red zone

offense in the league but settled for field goals on their first

two drives, costing them a chance to quiet the Superdome crowd and

seize control of the game. Instead, the Saints scored the game’s

next 31 points.

The loss snapped a franchise-record eight-game winning

streak.

Carolina’s no-name secondary which had played so well all season

was exposed.

Drew Brees threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns. To put those

numbers in perspective, the Panthers had only allowed 209.6 yards

passing per game coming in and had surrendered just nine touchdown

passes in 12 games.

Even if the Panthers beat the Saints (10-3) in the rematch,

they’d still need some outside help to win the NFC South and earn a

first-round bye.

New Orleans holds the conference tiebreaker, so the Panthers

would have to win out and have the Saints lose at St. Louis this

week or at home to Tampa Bay in Week 17 to win their first division

title since 2008.

”To know we can go out and play better and not have that happen

– that’s very disappointing,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. ”But

it’s not the end of the world. We’re sitting at 9-4 right now, and

everything we set out to accomplish is still right ahead of

us.”

The means beating the Jets.

”The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face

this same team in two weeks,” Newton said. ”But our focus is not

on that right now. Our focus is on the New York Jets and we will be

ready for those guys this upcoming Sunday.”

The Panthers did suffer a key loss as running back Jonathan

Stewart torn the MCL in his right knee. Rivera said Stewart’s ACL

is fine and he will be evaluated in 10 days. Rivera said that means

DeAngelo Williams will get the bulk of carries against the

Jets.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org .