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Carolina Panthers

Rivera, Panthers turn page to playoffs

CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera's weekly day-after-game press conference typically focuses on the last game before shifting to some talk about what's to come.

But the day after the regular season finale, Rivera turned the focus fully forward – just like he did with his team.

"The big thing we need to do more so than anything else is to move forward and get past the game that we just played, because right now that game can't do anything for us," Rivera said. "That's exactly what the message was: 'Guys, we're going forward. We're not looking back.'

"There are things in front of us. We're in a great situation, playing a team that we've played before. We're excited about that."

The Panthers (11-5) wrapped up the regular season with a 22-10 loss at the Falcons, a game that as it turned out presented the opportunity for Carolina to capture the NFC South title. New Orleans (11-5) slipped up as well, falling 31-24 at Tampa Bay to set up Round Three for the Panthers and Saints on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET – in the NFC Wild Card.

"It's a challenge. They're a challenge," said Rivera, whose Panthers were swept by the Saints in the regular season. "They're a good football team, but I like our guys. I think we're a good football team as well."


The Panthers didn't look like the team they want to be against the Falcons, particularly on offense, but their review of the loss was minimal.

"We watched it this morning," defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said, "and we will detail it with the players this afternoon with a mindset of trying to correct things from yesterday quickly and then get our mind on the New Orleans Saints."

The mindset makes sense regardless of the details of the Falcons game, but given the disappointing nature of the performance, it's even more important to wipe the slate clean.

"We're on to New Orleans. If you start letting things from the past haunt you, that's when they start affecting you in the future," running back Fozzy Whittaker said. "It's a missed opportunity, but at the end of the day we're here. There are 20 teams that are packing up, getting ready to be done for the season and going home. It's a blessing for us to be in this position."

Rivera did refer back to one aspect of the Atlanta game with his team to make sure it doesn't crop up in the playoffs. Three non-calls went against Carolina in the first half against the Falcons, and Rivera said his team's response reminded him of the group's first playoff game – a loss to the 49ers in the 2013 playoffs in which the Panthers lost their composure.

"One of the things I said to the guys: 'We got a little caught up in not being happy about some of the calls that weren't made.' I think we got a little distracted by that," Rivera said. "It was a little bit of a lesson (for younger players) and a little bit of refresher (for veterans), a reminder that, 'This is playoff time. You can't lose your focus. We've got to keep it on the game.' "

The afternoon after a disappointing day, that's certainly what Rivera was doing and what he's expecting from his team.

"We're getting ready for the playoffs," Rivera said. "I'm really excited about the opportunity we have in front of us."

INJURY UPDATE: Rivera sounded optimistic about the prospect of running back Jonathan Stewart (back) and safety Kurt Coleman (ankle) being back for the playoffs after sitting out the Falcons game.

"I think Stew will be fine. He told me he feels better already," Rivera said of Stewart, who was a surprise scratch after waking up on game day with back discomfort. "Hoping to have Kurt Coleman back on the football field. I'm excited about that."

The Panthers also hope to get right guard Trai Turner back after a three-game absence. All of last week, Rivera seemed confident that Turner would make it through the concussion protocol, but he remains there for the time being.

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