ATLANTA – Talk about a missed opportunity.
The NFC South title was there for the taking as Tampa Bay pulled out a thrilling 31-24 victory over New Orleans. A Saints' loss was half the battle for Carolina in Week 17. The other half was beating Atlanta.
But the Panthers didn't capitalize, suffering a disappointing 22-10 defeat in the regular season finale.
"Mad, disappointed," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Take your pick."
A win over the Falcons would have secured a home playoff game for the Panthers in the wild card round. Instead, they'll be traveling to New Orleans to face the Saints next Sunday.
The Panthers, who lost both regular season meetings against the Saints, haven't won a road playoff game since 2005.
"All we had to do was come down here and control our business. We needed something to work out in our favor and it did," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "Very disappointing, especially coming in here and seeing that Tampa took care of business against New Orleans. We had the opportunity to host a home playoff game and win the division, and we let it slip away."
Added linebacker Luke Kuechly: "Everybody in this locker room would have liked to have a home game in front of our fans in Charlotte, but that's not the case this time."
Safety Mike Adams admitted his stomach "turned a little bit" when he got to his locker and realized what happened between the Saints and Buccaneers.
But what's done is done. The Panthers are bound for New Orleans with everything to play for.
"Obviously we would have liked to have played at home. But it is what it is right now," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We've got to regroup. We're in the playoffs, we can't lose sight of that and we're going to play a team that's beaten us twice already this year. So we've got our work cut out for us."