CHARLOTTE – Punter Brad Nortman was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month after helping flip the field for Carolina in December.
"I'm excited. Most of all I'm excited for our guys, for the punt team and the special teams coaches," Nortman said. "It reflects our team success. I've helped our team win and get to where we are."
Nortman generated a 48.1-yard gross average and a 44.0-yard net average on 24 punts with eight inside the 20, just one touchback and long of 64 yards during the five games in December. He placed a least one punt inside the 20 and had at least punt longer than 50 yards in every game.
His performance in a victory in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints stood above the rest, as Nortman punted eight times for a 50.8 average. One of those punts was downed at the Saints' 2-yard line and another was downed at the Saints' 3.
"This totally caught me off guard," Nortman said. "I had a couple good weeks in there. It's one of those things you don't really worry about, and if you get it it's cool.
"It feels good on an individual level. As the season has gone on I've been able to step up when the team needs me to."
LOVIE ENTERS DIVISION: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new head coach is Lovie Smith – a man Ron Rivera is very familiar with.
"Tampa Bay has got a very good football coach who's got a great track record," Rivera said. "Now they have a guy that has been to the big stage and knows what it is going to take. He helps make their football team better already."
Smith coached the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012, and Rivera was the Bears' defensive coordinator from 2004-06. Rivera was let go after the Bears' run to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.
"No (hard feelings). There was disappointment more than anything else," Rivera said. "It was not a personal thing. I lived with it and moved on. It's never been an issue."
Rivera insists he and Smith have a "solid" relationship and they've stayed in contact since their days in Chicago.
"When we were struggling at 1-3 he texted me and told me, 'Hey, get it rolling,'" Rivera said. "When we started rolling he texted me back and congratulated me, and he congratulated me when we won the division.
"I texted him this morning and congratulated him. He texted me back and told me, 'Good luck in the playoffs.' My relationship with Coach Smith is good. Now, do we hope to beat them? Absolutely."
Tight end Greg Olsen played for Smith in Chicago from 2007-10, and he's looking forward to facing him twice a year in the NFC South.
"I'm happy for Lovie. He's a great guy," Olsen said. "He's a heck of a defensive coach. His teams always play hard. They are always very well-disciplined."
CAM'S MECHANICS: In the last few games, quarterback Cam Newton has had some issues keeping his passes down. Rivera acknowledges that some passes have sailed high on Newton, but he isn't alarmed.
"It's not a concern," Rivera said. "We've been through this with him, and he makes a couple adjustments and gets it back down. Everybody goes through ups and downs.
"It's just a matter of continuing to work on technique," Rivera said. "There's a combination of things (that contribute to inaccuracy). A lot of it depends on difference circumstances and situations."