CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Carolina head coach Ron Rivera isn’t about to give up on the Panthers’ chances of a winning season and making the NFL playoffs.
After Carolina’s 28-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, Rivera said Friday the Panthers will need to ”figure some things out” before either can happen.
”We’re by no means out of the (playoff) race,” he said. ”I’ve been in a race like this before, we all have. . It ends up being the team that comes back, that gets up and keeps fighting. The next thing you know, you’re right in the thick of things.
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”Anything’s possible – don’t count us out. We’re going to bounce back. We’ve got a `one game at a time’ mentality.”
After a 2-0 start, Carolina (3-5-1) has lost five of the last seven games, four by two or more touchdowns. Thursday night’s loss knocked the Panthers from atop the NFC South and put New Orleans there.
”We’re going to have to find out what’s missing,” tight end Greg Olsen said after Thursday night’s game. ”We’ve got to get some things straightened out. We need to recharge the batteries a little bit; it’s been a long run. We have to find some answers here quick before this gets away from us.”
With 10 days until Carolina’s next game, a Monday nighter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Stadium, the Panthers have some extra time to make adjustments after coming off a short week before playing the Saints.
”We’ve got an opportunity to correct a lot of things,” Rivera said. ”I wish we had gotten this break two weeks ago, but we didn’t. We’ve got seven to play, and we’ve got a lot of hay to make up.”
Carolina’s problems have come on both sides of the ball. The offense has been beset by injuries on the line and in the backfield, while the defense has struggled to find any consistency in its pass rush. The secondary has also struggled, with four new starters.
While the Panthers had running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both back in the lineup for the first time since Week 1, injuries to linemen Byron Bell (knee and elbow), Amini Silatolu (calf) and Trai Turner (knee and ankle) forced Carolina to start undrafted rookies Andrew Norwell and David Foucault.
However, Rivera said Friday he expects to have Bell, Silatolu and possibly Turner back against the Eagles. He added that Carolina’s coaches must get the Panthers’ other playmakers such as Williams, Stewart and Olsen more involved in the offense.
”We have to find ways to put it in their hands now,” he said. ”We’ve had other guys step up and make plays for us, but we have guys who have the ability to make plays and they’ve shown it. As coaches, we have to put them in better positions to make plays.”
As for Carolina’s defense, which has missed Pro Bowl end Greg Hardy, it has shown signs of life the last two games. The Panthers held the Seahawks to a pair of field goals before giving up a late touchdown in a 13-9 loss two weeks ago. They forced two early turnovers and sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees four times Thursday night.
”Over the last two weeks, we’ve done some good things,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. ”Having said that, we definitely have to do a better job on some things. We’ve got to find ways to get off the field. We’ve got plenty to work on.”
With seven games remaining – four of those against divisional foes New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay – Carolina’s players certainly know that they’ve got some work to do.
”We know we have to be better,” quarterback Cam Newton said after Thursday’s loss. ”We know we are better, simple as that. It’s not something that somebody has to say that hasn’t been said.
”There’s a lot that hasn’t been done yet. We’ve got to be professional about the situation and take responsibility and ownership and hold ourselves accountable to play better.”
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