Head Coach Ron Rivera*
Increase in sacks over last three games:"I think it works hand in hand. I really do. If you go back and look at some of the things that we've done and where some of the improvements have gone. There was actually an article about B.C. and A.C. and when do you look at some of the things that were after Chicago the guys have stepped up and done things that we needed to do. That's probably the biggest thing. We have gotten pressure on the quarterback. We tightened some of the coverage things up. We have continued to bring pressure off the edge. The thing that is probably the most disappointing today is, especially on the defensive side and I know Coach Steve Wilks feels that way, is their third down conversion was way too high. We missed some opportunities to get off the field early and we gave a couple of big plays over the top which we cannot do, especially going forward."
What did the special teams do for team today?"Saved us. There were some things that we didn't do very well as an offense or defense until the very end when we had to. That's one of the things that I'm at least pleased with when we needed to make a stop, we needed to knock them back, we did. Then we had to drive the ball all the way down, we did. That's huge. We gave ourselves the chance to win the game."
Injury update on Damiere Byrd:"The only thing I know is that he tweaked something on the outside (of his knee). That's all I know."
His understanding of the hold on Julius Peppers in the end zone:"My understanding is that a personal foul, dead ball foul, still goes back, I guess. I'm not sure to be honest with you. I thought you get the safety and then they tack on the fifteen yards when they have to kick."
His understanding that the penalty on Star Lotulelei was after the Peppers play in end zone?"After, yes. That was my understanding that it happened as a dead ball. But they said it still offsets. That's what I was told."
How did you calm defense down but still stay aggressive after two back to back pass inference calls?"We really didn't. Coach Steve Wilks just continued to call the calls that he was making. You just have to continue to be aggressive which he did. I just think that if these guys are going to play, they have to play fairly. I thought that's what they did. Again, those are tough calls. The referees are doing the best they can in those situations. There is a lot of pushing and shoving that's going on out there. Unfortunately, that's what happens."
What were you disappointed in offensively?"No. No, we knew this was going to be a physical game. We wanted this to be a physical game. The biggest disappointment I had was kicking field goals in the red zone. Give them credit, but we missed some opportunities. We missed some blocks. There were some blocks that were missed, not just by the offensive line, but by the backs, by the receivers, by the tight ends. I mean there are a lot of things that we can correct that we will correct but again, I want to give credit to Tampa Bay. They came in and didn't roll over. Dirk Koetter brought this team in ready to play football and they did."
What does winning a game where you didn't play your best mean for the rest of the season and playoffs?"I think what it can do is make us realize that we have to be at your best, especially this time of year going forward. We have a big game coming up next Sunday. Again, my understanding is New Orleans won so I'm not sure what that means. All I know is we need to go into Atlanta and play a good Atlanta team."
What did you want to do offensively today?"I would like to see us block a little bit better when we ran the ball and catch and throw the ball a little bit better than we threw it. It's just the little things that we didn't do very well. Could we have called something different? Maybe, probably. But again, we have to make sure we put them in position to win. Then if we are, are we having the success and are we executing? So those are the things we will look at when we get the chance to watch the tape and decide if we were doing the things we needed to, to give ourselves the chance to win that game."
Fake punt:"Exactly that. I told Mike Palardy, you can only lob it if he is wide open. Unfortunately, Mike didn't see the defensive back that was right behind Ed Dickson. Thank goodness he hit Ed a little early before the ball got there. The thing of it was to get the first down, curb their momentum and go in and score. That's what the fake was. I thought we needed a shot in the arm. I thought the way the defense was playing in the red zone, forcing them to kick field goals, that if they did get back down to the red zone that we would be able to hold them."
Final drive:"Again, what happened on that when you look at some of the things they were doing, they were trying to take Greg Olsen out. They were jamming Greg up all over the place, pretty much all the way down field they had somebody on him. They look like they were doubling up or slicing towards Devin Funchess. Rolling somebody extra over there over the top. So they were trying to take out our two most effectives and unfortunately enough they left Brenton Bersin and Kaelin Clay open to give them opportunities to make plays. They came up big at the right time for us. Cam Newton came up big for us finding the guys open down field."
Final play:"I thought the idea was to put it on the ground, get them to freeze for a second, pick it up and score. [laughter] I tell you, when I saw that, the best part is that it didn't ruin my Christmas which I really do appreciate."
The impact of Damiere Byrd over the years from practice squad player to starting today:"I'm very proud of a young man like that who came in and was a practice squad guy, was a basically an undrafted free agent and all he has done is just work hard. He deserves the opportunity. That's why I hope this (his injury) is nothing serious. He is the kind of young man that you want around. He is sharp, he is smart, he works hard. He is a young man who is a pro. I think that is probably one of the best words to describe him is he is a young pro."* *
Spark in teammates that Damiere Byrd provides:"Without a doubt. Again, as I said, he is one of those kind of guys you cheer for."
Did you expect this game to be as close as it was?"Honestly, yes. I talked to our guys about it on Wednesday. If you had watched the Monday night game and saw the way they came out and played Atlanta, that tells you something. They always play us well. They always play us well here and as I said, I thought Dirk Koetter did a great job getting his guys ready to play. They came here and they played a very emotional and physical football game. We were fortunate to come out on top."
Being in this playoff position:"It's an interesting position because again obviously, if we win and depending on what happened with some other people we can knock somebody out. If we win and something crazy happens with New Orleans, I think we win the division. There is still a chance. There is still hope. Sometimes that's all we need."
Quarterback Cam Newton
How special was today having Chosen here and your 2-yard touchdown?"That was on the 2-yard line? That's crazy. I almost gave it up. Just the element of surprise. I'm proud of this team's resilience through everything. It was very trying for us to catch rhythm today. Tampa is a great team, but we found ways and that's what great teams do. I mean good teams who are trying to be great."
Mindset being getting a good drive together when the team has been struggling?"For us, we knew what we were capable of. It can become frustrating when you get the series and find yourself at third down and you don't convert. Everything is becoming a blur so to speak, like a broken record. We just wanted to get in a rhythm and find a way to gain some cushion. They didn't allow us to do that and that's what it's all about. Just find a way. We did that in the end. Our defense gave us some opportunities early with some turnovers and we have to find ways to turn those in to touchdowns rather than just 3 points. When you let a team like that stay involved, things like that happen."
How do you stay tuned in during December?"I figured that it was going to be coming down to some type of last drive. I wanted to put my team in the best situation to win football games. It's not necessarily about individual accolades or statistics, especially when you're trying to win a football game. I was happy that guys honed in, locked in, to get a much-needed win for us."
Damiere Byrd:"Lil' Bud, he's given us that spark that we need. He has big play potential, you saw that in the kick return as well as the missed tackle. For him, it's all about gaining confidence. I don't know the status of his injury, but hopefully we get him back before too long."
What happened in your final play?"I was so locked in to, am I going to jump or I didn't know what to expect. They'd been doing a great job with disguising all day. They gave me a couple of options there at the end to decide what I wanted. I felt as if the run was the best play because they were still in a favorable coverage. So when I got the snap, it was a perfect snap, my knuckles actually hit the ball. It's just a little drill that I usually do right before the game with controlling the snap. Throwing the ball off the ground, trying to get the right bounce and find the trajectory of the ball. I am just happy it wasn't a pass play because if it was, the offensive line would have come back. Everyone was moving forward which allowed me in. Some say it was kind of good because it froze everybody too. I am just happy that we scored. Now the real football starts with playoffs."
Jonathan Stewart's first down:"I don't think it was as close as advertised. I think his initial spot was pretty good, but anything can happen in a pile. I am just happy that he was able to fight for a much-need first down in that situation. Everything kind of lined up for that."
Michael Palardy's throwing form:"He's a lefty and he went to Tennessee. There's a lot of things we need to sharpen up with those mechanics. Even for me, I could take some coaching as well. I am just so happy that, as a team, we got a great team win. Defensively, offensively, and special teams, we understand that we have to be better. We will be better. Moving forward we get a lot of guys back and that's what I am most excited about."
His touchdown and celebration:"I didn't even know it was a on the 2-yard line. It was crazy. I was kind of lighting a cupcake [for his son, Chosen's, birthday today] and I wanted to put someone in the Christmas spirit. I wanted to give away the touchdown to someone and I wanted to add a notion of the cupcake. So, it was kind of from me and Chosen."
Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin stepping up:"They stepped up to it... [inaudible]. When you have a young team like that, you try to practice like the moment isn't too big for them. When it's like that, what bigger stage than doing it on the last drive? We're always working on it in practice, but for those guys to be in front of 50-70,000 [fans] and millions watching. The moment wasn't big and that's what you like to see."
Describing the season:"It's a lot of weathering the storm. This week was kind of dramatized for a lot of reasons, but through it all, guys stayed focused and got a much-needed win for us today."
Coming out of the game for a play:"I don't think it was intentional. His hand just hit the wrong spot. I plan on having more Chosen's one day and he didn't help that."
Safety Mike Adams
Eliminating big plays on defense:"Just doing our job with tackling, basic fundamentals and stuff like that."
The performance of the defensive line:"They ball. They ate today and did their thing. My hat goes off to the whole D-line. Just getting after the quarterback and they made it easier on us, we just have to do a better job tackling."
Defensive end Mario Addison
Clinching a playoff spot:"It was just the beginning. Now it's time for us to really put our feet down. That was playoff style football."* *
The team's effort:"It wasn't easy. In my opinion we played kind of slow. If we want to continue to win we've got to play better."* *
Defenses performance:"It really wasn't a big day for us. We left too many plays out there. We can improve on defense and we will improve."
Tight end Ed Dickson
Winning after not playing their best:"It shows the best don't give up. We wanted to play our best football when it mattered. Now it's playoff time - win or go home. Anything can happen. We punched our ticket but we aren't satisfied. Play one game at a time, all the way to the Super Bowl."
What was said during the final drive:"There was no panicking. We have been in those moments before. We said we have to go down there and score. From the quarterback to everyone on the offensive line, to the wide receivers, to the running backs and to the tight ends. We knew that our goal was to get points out of that drive."
The burst of energy at the end:"I'm so glad it came out at that moment. I couldn't tell you exactly what the energy level was throughout the game. It did waver a little bit. But to have that much juice and energy to finish the game off, it shows the character of this team."
Wide receiver Devin Funchess
The game as a whole:"Tampa had a lot of guys out so we knew a lot of guys were going to come in and battle to their fullest. As you saw Jameis on the last play, he's just a competitor. It feels good, we're in the playoffs and get to enjoy the family at home for Christmas."* *
Offensive struggles:"It was self-inflicted, we missed guys here, we missed guys there. We could never get a roll started. The defense kept us in the game. [Damiere] Byrd kept us in the game with the special teams play. We've got to find ourselves throughout the week and get better."* *
Clinching a playoff spot:"It is relaxing. We get to go and enjoy our family tonight, tomorrow, and just get prepared next week for Atlanta."
Center Ryan Kalil
Go-ahead touchdown drive:"Obviously we scored, that was the most important thing. The first thing I asked, "Was the snap good?" and everybody said "yeah," then I didn't care after that, that was his (Cam's) problem."* *
Defending Tampa Bay's offensive line:"They do a really good job of stunting those guys. (Gerald) McCoy is one of the best. He does a good job setting stuff up, they do fake stunts off of that. We had a couple early on that weren't as clean as we'd like but as the game went on we got better and better and I thought we did a good job for the most part protecting Cam."
Offensive line preparation:"There are certain points on the field that there were a high percentage of the kind of fronts we thought were going to get, what kind of pressures we thought we were going to get. I though they (the defensive line) did a good job mixing up some of that stuff and disguising some of that stuff, but for the most part I though what we prepared all week for was pretty right on."
Linebacker Luke Kuechly
What it means to be playoff bound:"It's one of those things that you talk about in the beginning of the season; you want to be playing in January at the end of the year. We can cross that one off and it's just you've thought about it, but you understand that we have to go play Atlanta now who is a really good football team in their place and it's going to be fun. That's what makes the NFL great, the divisional games at the end of the year have a lot of weight. This one did and next week will as well, so we're excited."
The performance of the defensive line:"Those guys have been doing it all year and I don't know if they get enough credit. Pep (Julius Peppers) and Mario (Addison) had another one (sack). I think KK (Kawann Short) had a big one. They said we had six (sacks) but I'm not sure if that's right. Those guys played so well and so hard and make our job on the back end easy. Anytime you get pressure like that and get a guy off their spot, it makes our job easy and I'm glad there is a big group of our guys that play well."
Cam Newton's game winning touchdown:"I saw it. I was watching it and said, 'Oh no he fumbled!', then he picked it up and followed Ryan Kalil right in there. It's great having Ryan (Kalil) back, he gives us a great surge up the middle, he's a great leader for that group and he (Cam) just followed 67 (Ryan Kalil) in there and jumped right in."
Running back Christian McCaffrey **
Expecting the game to be this close:"You never know. This is the NFL, you have to come each week and be ready to roll. We didn't play up to our standard but there is no such thing as perfect football. We are happy for the w."
What needs to happen to get a win against Atlanta:"They are a great team. This is a tough road game for us. So we are going to enjoy the holidays and get back to the drawing board. I think for us it's just how we execute. Never about anyone else but how we execute and how we approach each and every drive. Back to the drawing board and get ready to roll next week."
Thoughts on the final drive:"We knew we had to make a play. I think the urgency was there. It was important for us to get going a little bit. Guys stepped up and made some clutch plays. Cam did a great job of getting the ball where it needed to be and the offensive line did a great job too. If we were going to have a scoring drive, that was a great drive to do it."
Defensive tackle Kawann Short
The game as a whole:"It was an ugly win. We knew we needed to take care of business. At the end of the day we got the job done. We're in the playoffs, another step where we're trying to get to."
Defensive objectives:"Throughout the week we talk about communication up front and we've all got to be on the same page and work together; you see it on the field. We let a couple slip but at the same time we've got to let them go, come back together, regroup and keep the communication flowing. We've got guys on the line like Pep who make sure we do what we need to do and take care of business, and you see it out there."
Facing Jameis Winston:"He's a big guy. We knew it was going to take everything to get him down. He's not down until they blow that whistle, so as a front we know that and we've got to keep rushing. Once one person gets him we still have to rally to the ball and hopefully that guy gets it out."
Running back Jonathan Stewart
The game as a whole:"The culture here is definitely something that you don't find everywhere in the league, guys know how to win and how to win as a team. Today was definitely a team victory. Things weren't going right and we weren't making the right decisions as far as our assignments here and there. We had a little bit of an off day, but somehow or another we just knew deep down we were going to win the game. That's how we approached the ending of the game. We went down there, charged down there, "OK, alright let's win this game, let's do this for each other." That's the mindset of this team, we do it for the guys next to us."
Emotions on the final touchdown:"At first I thought it was going to bounce back into his hands, and it did, so I didn't really have a heart attack. It bounced the right way for sure. I was just glad we won, a playoff berth, enjoy Christmas."
Clinching a playoff berth:"Ultimately we're trying to win a Super Bowl. Until you can win a Super bowl, a playoff berth doesn't really matter; but to win the Super Bowl you've got to make the playoffs. It's kind of like a give and take. Staying within your situation not staying too high or too low."
Head Coach Dirk Koetter
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What did you see on the fumble at the end?"I couldn't see. The official came out at the end and signaled Carolina ball right off the bat. Took them forever to unpile them. Jameis (Winston) told me he had the ball. That's what I know."
Your decision to kick a 51-yard field goal:"It puts you up seven. It puts you up seven. I mean you're playing football. That's our number. We hit our number. We kicked a field goal. He wasn't short. He had the distance. It was the same as last week and he pushed it to the right. And again, that's one play, one play in the game and it was a big one. Man, a lot of big plays in that first half. That first half, a lot of plays went against us. We battled back. Our guys battled hard all day. We didn't make enough plays ultimately. I should have given better calls in the red zone. I stunk in the red zone, but we just didn't get it done."
Quarterback Jameis Winston
At the end of the drive, before the missed field goal, how were they able to stop you?"We had some penalties, (Mike) Evans made a great play, we had a perfect screen lined up, oh my gosh and I had to scramble, you know and we got behind the sticks. When you get behind the sticks, they can play what we call a sticks coverage where they can push our players all the way back and then force a check down. When you lose on the early downs, it's very tough to overcome the yardage on a great defense like that; again we just shot ourselves in the foot."
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy
Jonathan Stewart's fourth down conversion:"We stopped them man, it was a bad call. I know you can't critique the refs, and I'm not going to start today, but like I said, that was a bad spot. It should've been reviewed and we should've been off the field and win the game. But we had opportunities to get off and we didn't."
AP Photos from Carolina's win over Tampa Bay in Week 16.