Behind Enemy Lines Wild Card Edition: Carolina Panthers
Well, they don’t have the best record (or even a winning one), but the Carolina Panthers are in the playoffs for the second straight season.
Ron Rivera’s team wrapped up the NFC South title with a thorough 34-3 dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons Sunday. With the win, the Panthers finished the regular season 7-8-1, becoming the first team since the 2010 Seattle Seahawks to head to the playoffs with a losing record.
Due to NFL rules, as division champs, Carolina gets a homefield playoff game against a Wild Card team, so the Cardinals head to Charlotte for Saturday’s matchup.
All week, we’ll take you behind enemy lines to let you know what’s going on with the Carolina Panthers as they prepare for the Cardinals.
Friday, January 2
Throughout eight lineup changes on the offensive line due to injuries, throughout questions about whether this group was good enough to play winning football, one thing has remained constant.
“It is noticeable,” coach Ron Rivera said on Thursday. “It’s funny. You worry about those things. You worry about being too loose, you worry about being too tight.
• ‘Coach Jack’ keeps Carolina Panthers on track (Charlotte Observer)
Coach Jack has spinal muscular atrophy, SMA. The body grows, but the muscles fail to keep up. He uses a wheelchair.
Last season, under the auspices of the Make-A-Wish-Foundation, he asked to become Carolina coach for a day.
• One gutsy roster move saved Panthers’ season (Fox Sports Carolinas)
The move Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera made immediately following an embarrassing loss to Minnesota on Nov. 30, seemed irrelevant at the time.
Now, it’s one of the main reasons a lost season was saved.
• Philly Brown gives Carolina Panthers big-play threat (Charlotte Observer)
Brown has become the Panthers’ speedster and deep threat in the second half of the season. The undrafted rookie out of Ohio State has transformed from a slot receiver to explosive playmaker since he came to Carolina, and he said it hasn’t been that difficult.
Thursday, Jan. 1
• Carolina Panthers all business on field, all smiles off it (Charlotte Observer)
Carolina kicked off the new year with music, fake champagne bottle service and cellphone-made strobe lights after Thursday’s practice. The team is keeping it loose after its final full practice before Saturday’s Wild Card game against the Cardinals.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera lost his cool in last year’s 23-10 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers after a pair of questionable calls against his team. Rivera has stressed this week that he cannot let that happen again on Saturday.
• Jake Delhomme hopes Carolina Panthers fare better than he did in 2009 playoff (Charlotte Observer)
Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had arguably the worst game of his career when the Cardinals and Panthers last met in the postseason. Delhomme threw five interceptions in a 33-13 loss in 2009, something the ex-QB hopes won’t happen for this Panthers team this time around.
• Carolina Panthers’ lineman Charles Johnson takes stronger leadership role (Charlotte Observer)
Charles Johnson spoke up after the Panthers clinched the NFC South title last Sunday. He reminded the team to enjoy the moment, but keep its focus because it’s just the beginning. Johnson joined Carolina in 2007 and has never won a playoff game.
Wednesday, Dec. 31
The Carolina Panthers’ defense had their share of struggles early in the season, but the unit is peaking down the stretch, as only the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans have held quarterbacks to a lower QB rating over the last four weeks of the season.
• Carolina Panthers underdogs no more (Charlotte Observer)
The Carolina Panthers have thrived as underdogs over the last month, going 4-0. But on the heels of a 34-3 dominant win over the Atlanta Falcons and with the banged-up Arizona Cardinals coming to town, the script may be flipped.
• Ron Rivera not ready to name Jonathan Stewart the starter for playoffs (Charlotte Observer)
With Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams on the mend from a hand injury which sidelined him for the last month, coach Ron Rivera isn’t committing to naming his backup — Jonathan Stewart — the starter for Saturday’s showdown with the Arizona Cardinals.
• Panthers’ defensive strategy: Stop run, turn up heat on QB (Charlotte Observer)
After routing the Atlanta Falcons, 34-3, thanks to heavy pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan and a total shutdown of the opposition’s depleted rushing attack. They’ll look to employ the same strategy Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.
• Carolina Panthers preparing for Ted Ginn Jr. (Charlotte Observer)
Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. will return to Charlotte in red and white Saturday as a key piece to the Arizona Cardinals’ chances at a win. With the team’s offense depleted and preparing to face a red-hot Panthers’ defensive unit, Ginn’s role in the return game looms large.
Tuesday, Dec. 30
Statistically, this hasn’t been Johnson’s best season in terms of sacks and quarterback pressures that have been his forte. He has 8.5 sacks, his lowest total since 2009.
But 4.5 of those have come in the past six games when Johnson’s play on the field picked up. Exactly what changed, Rivera can’t say for sure, although the improvement of players around Johnson has helped.
• Next step for Cam Newton is to win playoff game (ESPN.com)
Newton is 0-1 in the playoffs heading into Saturday’s 4:35 p.m. game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. If he goes to 0-2 the critics will question whether he’s good enough to get Carolina (7-8-1) to the next level.
Following Sunday’s 34-3 victory over Atlanta that secured a fourth straight victory, a second straight NFC South title and a home wild-card game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers’ odds are down to 40-1.
• Cam Newton, Ron Rivera still seeking 1st playoff win together (Charlotte Observer)
What the coach and the quarterback haven’t done together, however, is win a single playoff game. They have a great chance to change that at 4:35 p.m. Saturday, when Carolina hosts an injury-plagued but still dangerous Arizona team in sold-out Bank of America Stadium.
• Carolina Panthers playoff strategy: Don’t lose their cool (Charlotte Observer)
“I lost focus for almost a quarter. I was upset. I didn’t think the game was being called fairly,” Rivera said Monday. “That’s my fault. At that point I’ve got to move on to the next detail.”
• Carolina Panthers coaches not sweating Kelvin Benjamin’s drops yet (Charlotte Observer)
Benjamin had two drops during Sunday’s 34-3 win against at Atlanta, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera admitted there’s a little concern that continues to happen so late into Benjamin’s rookie season.
• Carolina Panthers show they’re a team to fear in the playoffs (Bleacher Report)
Carolina winning the pathetic NFC South might seem, on the surface, like dating the most handsome sportswriter, but these Panthers are nasty and for real. These aren’t the NFL’s stepchildren. They are one of the league’s most dangerous teams.