Panthers hit weekend running

CHARLOTTE – If the Carolina Panthers had some "Thank God It's Friday" thoughts on the eve of their bye weekend, they sure didn't show it.

The Panthers strapped on full pads for their final practice before getting a couple of days off thanks to the first-round bye they earned as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

"We had a great practice today," quarterback Cam Newton said. "One thing about this team, there are unbelievable guys that love to respond. What I mean by that is controlling the 'it,' not making the 'it' control you. The 'it' today was going on a mini-vacation, having a couple of days off, and it's drizzling and cold, and your body may not be in the same routine to get ready to go.

"But we showed the professionalism and maturity of a good team."

That's how the whole week went, really, with the 15-1 Panthers clearly re-energized by the way they ended the regular season and the opportunity that awaits in the postseason.

"There have been very spirited practices, and the locker room is spirited," head coach Ron Rivera said. "They've got a lot of personality going on right now, which is great.

"We'll see how we are Monday. Hopefully, they take my advice and rest and relax and enjoy the next couple of days."

Friday wasn't about taking it easy. In a rare padded practice this late in the season, the Panthers went at each other hard – but not too hard.

"The padded practice today, the whole attitude was to get as many guys on the practice field as possible and get a chance to work and get the feel of being in pads again," Rivera said. "I wouldn't want them to not be in full pads leading up to our first playoff game. I wanted them to get a good feel for it.

"I liked what we got out of it. It was competitive. Guys did a nice job with it. There were some decent collisions but nothing out of control, which was a big emphasis before we started."

Spectators Friday included wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who has started running as he continues his recovery from a season-ending knee injury suffered during training camp.

"I've seen several guys have that injury that he has, and you don't see them all year. But Benji is right there," Newton said. "He wants to be out there. It makes people realize their blessing even more that you're only one play away."

The Panthers are only a couple of days away from finding out who they'll host in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Sunday, January 17. If Seattle wins Sunday, the Seahawks will head to Bank of America Stadium; if not, the Washington-Green Bay winner will.

Newton said he didn't plan to pay close attention to the games but that they would be on because of his family's interest level.

This weekend, for once, the focus isn't football.

"We have to seize this opportunity to mend up, get better, not do anything stupid these couple of days, and just come back with a sound mind, ready to go," Newton said.

View photos from the Panthers' practice during their first-round bye.

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