Five Takeaways from Ron Rivera's Press Conference

1. PANTHERS ARE FULL SPEED AHEAD: At some point, head coach Ron Rivera might have to debate whether to sit some starters in anticipation of the postseason, but he hasn't reached that point.

"When we get to the following week, we'll decide, but we've got to take care of what needs to be done," Rivera said. "This next game has value, and these guys are players and they want to play."

Sunday's victory over the New York Giants made the Panthers just the fourth team in the Super Bowl era to start the season 14-0, but it didn't earn them homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They still need a victory or an Arizona loss to wrap that up, and the Panthers will get the first shot at securing home field when they visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

"It's an opportunity for us to clinch homefield advantage throughout, and hopefully we'll be able to do that and then take advantage of it," Rivera said. "It's an important game. There's meaning to it, so we've got to be ready to play, and we'll play to win.

"Is there a fine line? There probably is, but that's to be decided when we get to the next game. If the game has value, there's no issue. When we get to that game, we'll cross that bridge."

Rivera was defensive coordinator in San Diego seven years ago when the Chargers rested their starters in Week 17 and then lost their first playoff game. Rivera talked last week about coaching a team that was rusty when it returned from a layoff, but he said Monday that he was actually referring to the 2005 Chicago Bears, who lost to the Panthers in the divisional round.

"At the time it seemed like a great idea, but after the game – it was actually Carolina we lost to – the players said they were a little rusty," Rivera said. "I've always kept that in the back of my mind."

2. BECKHAM AFTERMATH: The other hot topic after Sunday's game was the scrapes between Panthers cornerback Josh Norman and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., an all-day battle that included an undeniable cheap shot to the head delivered by Beckham in the second half that fortunately didn't result in injury.

Rivera was asked if the hit, which has led to speculation that Beckham will be suspended by the NFL, should have led to an ejection.

"It has to be seen. I don't know if the referees were able to see it. A lot of things go on in the game, and they're going to miss things, obviously," Rivera said. "We'll let the league go through the process and make their decision. They'll go back and watch the tape and make a decision on what needs to happen, but for the most part we're going to move on from that because the next thing coming up for us is Atlanta."

Rivera did appreciate how game officials at least tried to calm things early, with both the back judge and referee discussing the situation with Rivera after the first quarter – though it obviously didn't slow down Beckham.

"Coming to me as the head coach and allowing the back judge to go talk to Josh pretty much helped our guys," Rivera said.

3. AREAS TO IMPROVE: Rivera did look back at the Giants game Monday for other reasons.

"It's a good opportunity for us as coaches to talk about some things that went on in the game and use that to our advantage going forward," Rivera said. "It's about finishing opponents, taking advantages of opportunities and handling adjustments. Winning does cover up a lot of things, and there were some mistakes made that we need to talk about."

On defense, the Panthers let a 28-point lead slip away.

"We were trying to stick to the game plan," Rivera said. "At times we played the run with a six-man box, and it bit us. Another time, we tried to play a specific kind of coverage but we missed a check and gave up a big touchdown.

"(Defensive coordinator) Sean (McDermott) and his staff will look at it, and we'll get it corrected."

On special teams, the Panthers had a field goal blocked midway through the fourth quarter that would have made it a three-score game.

"The blocked field goal was a matter of great timing," Rivera said. "(Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) jumped the snap perfect – I don't think I've ever seen anybody hit it as good as he did – and the wing had no chance.

"He blocked it with his side instead of his hand. That's how good of a jump he got."

4. PLEASED WITH ARTIS-PAYNE: Rivera said it's too early to tell whether running back Jonathan Stewart will return this week after sitting out one game with a foot injury, but Rivera was mostly satisfied by what rookie Cameron Artis-Payne did with his first extended playing time.

Artis-Payne accounted for 93 yards Sunday after totaling 31 in his previous four games.

"It's been real tough to get him out there, but he had an opportunity and looked good," Rivera said. "He looked a little tentative a couple times. I think a little bit was (because) he was out of practice. It looked like he stuttered a couple times waiting for the (hole) to show instead of just hitting it like he did on a couple other ones.

"I thought he did a nice job with the protections, and I thought he did a nice job out of the backfield catching the ball and running with it."

5. KALIL SHOULD BE FINE: Unlike last week, the Panthers came out of the game well from an injury standpoint despite some particularly physical play that affected quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., and center Ryan Kalil.

Newton never actually left the game, but Ginn did miss some time with a rib injury before returning. Kalil missed two plays with what Rivera termed a stinger.

"Kalil was coming in today and a few other guys," Rivera said. "Kalil was evaluated for a neck stinger but went back in and finished the game up. I expect him to be OK."

View the top photos by photographer Kent Smith from Carolina's game against New York.

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