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Carolina Panthers

Rivera still sees room for improvement


CHARLOTTE - The scoreboard largely told the tale of the Panthers' 48-16 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a film review by head coach Ron Rivera did allow him to read further between the lines.

Carolina wasn't perfect in retrospect, but that's perfectly fine by Rivera.

"We had a lot of bright spots, but there still were some areas we could get better at," Rivera said Monday. "We left some plays on the field, but that's actually encouraging from a coach's standpoint, because it means we can improve."

Rivera pointed out issues on third down, where the offense failed to convert on all six of its chances, while the defense allowed Tampa Bay to make on 5-of-11. He also said the team missed on a couple of tackles.

Overall, however, he remained complimentary of his team's latest showing, especially some individual efforts that didn't truly show up in the box score.

"There really were a lot of good performances, a lot of great individual performances," Rivera said. "(Brandon) LaFell's catch and run (for a 91-yard touchdown) was about as good as it gets, and the thing that was probably even more impressive was what Steve Smith did in hustling to get downfield and cutting off three guys that could have potentially caught up to him. That's about as unselfish as it gets, and it tells you he's a guy that buys into what we're trying to do.

"Also, watch the way Chris Gamble played. There were three instances in the game where Gamble made tackles inside the box as a corner. That to me is impressive. That speaks really high of him."

!NAANEE'S SEASON OVER: The only bad news from Saturday came on the injury front.

Wide receiver Legedu Naanee suffered a broken bone in his foot while fighting for the end zone but coming up just short in the final minute of the first half.

Naanee won't play in Sunday's season finale at New Orleans. He ends his first season with the Panthers with 44 receptions for 467 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive tackle Andre Neblett suffered a concussion when he collided with defensive end Charles Johnson in the third quarter and will have to go through the NFL-mandated protocol to see if he can play Sunday. Safety Jordan Pugh will do the same after sitting out the Buccaneers game when symptoms cropped up shortly before kickoff.

Rivera said Johnson was sore after the game, and he said safety Charles Godfrey – who missed the game with a shoulder injury – is showing signs of improvement.

IT'S ABOUT TIME: The Panthers should find out late tonight whether their game with the Saints will remain at its originally scheduled time of 1 p.m. or if it will be moved to 4:15 p.m.

If the Atlanta Falcons knock off the Saints tonight in New Orleans, the Carolina-New Orleans matchup likely will be flexed to a late afternoon start.

Rivera is among those hoping for a one o'clock kick – the same time every Panthers game has kicked off this season, save the 4:15 p.m. opener at Arizona.

"I like the routine we're in now," Rivera said. "We've played very well, and this routine has been good for us. I don't know how a late afternoon start would affect us, but I am a creature of routine."

Regardless of when the game is played, Rivera is most excited about how the game will be played – namely with all-out efforts from both teams.

While the Panthers will be trying to keep momentum going into the offseason by winning for the fifth time in six games, the Saints will be playing for plenty as well.

If they win tonight, they still have a shot at a playoff bye. If they lose tonight, they'll need to win to clinch the NFC South.

"Either way, New Orleans is going to have to win, so they're going to have to play and play hard. We're going to show up and play as hard as we can, too," Rivera said. "You want their best shot. You want to give your best shot and you want to take their best shot.

"For us, it's a measuring stick. This is a team you want to measure yourself against because of who they are, the quality of players they have, how well they're coached. Going into their environment, there's going to be a lot at stake. We can most certainly still have an impact on the playoffs."

PRO BOWL PICKS: The Panthers will find out Tuesday evening who among them has been voted to the Pro Bowl.

Rivera recognizes that the team's early struggles – a 2-8 start on the heels of a 2-14 season – could hurt their cause, but he still believes multiple Panthers will receive the honor.

"We have several guys who have played that way. The hard thing is that we've gone through a lot of growing pains as a football team," Rivera said. "But it would reaffirm what I believe as a coach, which is that there are some good football players on this roster, and they deserve recognition."

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