CHARLOTTE – Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has vivid memories of the last time Carolina played the San Diego Chargers, though his perspective on that one is a little different than his view will be this Sunday.
The Panthers won the 2008 season opener at San Diego in dramatic fashion, jumpstarting a 12-4 season with a 26-24 victory on tight end Dante Rosario's 14-yard touchdown reception on the game's final play.
At the time, Rivera was San Diego's defensive coordinator.
"They could have called holding, very easily," Rivera said. "It was a heck of a game.
"It's no different than a couple of our losses this year. It just rips your gut out. To feel like you played well enough to win and then have something like that happen at the end is tough."
Rosario now plays for the Chargers, and Sunday's game originally was to be a homecoming of sorts for him. It was San Diego's turn to come to Carolina based on the NFL scheduling formula, but a change in 2010 to curb travel moved this year's Chargers game to San Diego and brought this year's Denver Broncos game to Charlotte.
As a result, San Diego is scheduled to next play in Charlotte in 2016 after last playing here in 2004. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who starred just up the road at North Carolina State, has never taken a snap as a pro at Bank of America Stadium.
FREED UP: Charles Godfrey is excited about his move from strong safety to free safety. He started at free safety for the Panthers as a rookie in 2008 and again in 2009.
"At free safety you're more able to make plays on the ball, play the ball in the air," Godfrey said. "I played there some a couple of years ago and came into my own, but then I had to move to strong safety and play more in the box, more tackling.
"I got away from being around the ball as much, but Coach Rivera talked to me about how we need some plays in the back end. Now when the ball is in the air, I'll be able to go and get it."
Godfrey fully participated in practice Thursday for the first time since suffering a back injury in Week 13 at Kansas City. Rookie D.J. Campbell started at strong safety in last Sunday's victory over Atlanta and will remain there, while Godfrey will take over at free safety in the wake of Haruki Nakamura's season-ending groin injury.
INJURY UPDATE: Linebacker James Anderson practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day Thursday. Anderson, third of the team with 84 tackles, was inactive against Atlanta after suffering an eye injury against Kansas City in addition to dealing with a back injury.
"The back is more of a factor than the eye now," said Anderson, whose eye is no longer bothering him other than still being inflamed. "I was making a tackle and got hit. If that was one finger, it was a strong finger.
"We're just taking it day-by-day, just listening to the trainers and coaches."
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell (toe), running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle), center Geoff Hangartner (foot) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist) again sat out practice, and defensive end Charles Johnson also did not practice with back spasms.
Safety Colin Jones also was added to the long list after being limited by a groin injury, while wide receiver Louis Murphy (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis. Offensive lineman Jeff Byers (back) and linebacker Thomas Davis (knee) fully participated.
STRIKE THE POSE: Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel became the 11th quarterback in the last 13 years – and the third as many years – to win the Heisman Trophy last weekend.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who started the streak, said he cast his vote for Manziel.
"I'm very happy for Johnny Manziel," Newton said. "The impact he's had this year, the guy is unbelievable."
The run of 11 quarterbacks in 13 years began with former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke in 2000.