CHARLOTTE – The comfort of a franchise-record eight straight wins was extinguished in New Orleans last Sunday.
"That loss should be a great learning experience for us," head coach Ron Rivera said. "The thing we have to understand is, heck, we're still 9-4."
Said safety Mike Mitchell: "One game doesn't change who we are. We know what we've done for the whole course of the season. We are staying focused. It's good to get that one out of the way. Now we can get back on a streak and get things rolling."
The Panthers return to the comforts of home this Sunday when they host the New York Jets (6-7) at Bank of America Stadium.
Rivera expects the Panthers to bounce back well after their first loss since October 6.
"We most certainly should. There is no reason not to," Rivera said. "Our guys will be zeroed in. We know what's at stake and how important these last three games are."
The Panthers are focused on earning a playoff berth, and with three games remaining, that goal is within reach. Carolina can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Jets and losses by Arizona, San Francisco and either Dallas or Philadelphia.
"We have to take care of business," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "The goal is to make the playoffs, and we control that."
Here's what to watch as the Panthers take aim at their 10th victory.
READY FOR THE ROOKIE: Following a Week 9 win over the New Orleans Saints, the Jets lost their next three games and their offense struggled, averaging less than seven points per game in those defeats.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was replaced by backup Matt Simms in the Week 13 loss to Miami but Smith started the following week against Oakland and helped the Jets snap their three-game skid by throwing and running for a touchdown.
"Geno is a very mobile quarterback with a very strong arm," Mitchell said.
Carolina intends to pressure the rookie, who has had an up and down first season, but the Panthers are aware of his playmaking ability.
"He's fearless. He doesn't know any better," Rivera said. "Those guys are dangerous."
TOUGH SLEDDING: Both offenses are built to run the football. Both defenses have proven they are excellent at stopping it.
Carolina ranks first in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 79.4 yards per game. The Jets rank second, surrendering 82.6 yards per game.
Former Saints running back Chris Ivory leads New York in rushing with 639 yards.
The Panthers' backfield will have a different look with running back Jonathan Stewart out with a knee injury and rookie Kenjon Barner set to enter the rotation behind DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
"They are stout in the running game," Tolbert said. "They present a lot of challenges up front. We have to be on our 'A' game to move the ball against them."
And moving the ball on the ground will be imperative.
"We have to be prepared to run the football," quarterback Cam Newton said. "These guys are very stingy on the ground, but to be successful you have to be able to run the football."
HOLMES OFFERS CHALLENGE: Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes had some interesting things to say about the Carolina secondary this week.
"Not to call those guys out, but their secondary is probably their weakest link on their defense," Holmes said, according to ESPN.com "It's the way they're ranked throughout the NFL. It's not my perspective."
Despite struggling last week against Drew Brees and the Saints, the Panthers actually rank fifth in the NFL in passing yards allowed at 216.8 per game.
The Panthers' defensive backs didn't need any more motivation after what happened last week, but Holmes may have provided some.
TOYS FOR TOTS: The Panthers will conclude their annual holiday toy collection on Sunday. Fans can contribute to Toys for Tots by bringing a new, unwrapped toy to the game against the Jets. Representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve will be at each gate when Bank of America Stadium opens at 2 p.m. to collect the toys.
|Panthers in the Park||
Located at Romare Bearden Park in Third Ward between Church Street and Mint Street and open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Free, interactive area offers fun for the entire family with appearances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and PurrCussion and the Fuel Up to Play 60 Kids Combine, which includes activities like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course. Try fun football challenges and free milk samples from the Southeast Dairy Association. Learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Take the Pre-D Challenge (an effort to reduce type 2 diabetes) at the Carolinas Healthcare System booth.
Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 1:45 to 3:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link booth from 2 to 3 p.m. and Sir Purr appearing throughout the afternoon. Discover a wide range of services, charge your phone, take the "It Can Wait Pledge" and register to win prizes at the AT&T Connection Zone. Get fun giveaways from Academy Sports + Outdoors. Visit the Forms & Supply mobile furniture showroom. Stop by one of Charlotte's best food trucks at Queen City Q. Area also features a DJ and offers food and drink sales.
|Pregame||Performance: Marc Martel|
|Invocation||Rev. Reginald Tuggle - First United Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, N.C.|
|United States Coast Guard Sector North Carolina|
|National Anthem||Judith Hill|
|Halftime||King BMX Stunt Show|
BAG POLICY: The National Football League bag policy designed to enhance safety will be strictly enforced on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Under the policy, approved bags must meet the following criteria:
• Small clutch purse no larger than 4.5" x 6.5"
• Any transparent plastic or vinyl bag no larger than 12" x 6" x 12"
• Seat pad that does not contain zippers, clasps, etc., and is not encased in vinyl.
The Panthers will provide a clear, plastic gallon size bag to fans who bring non-compliant bags to the stadium. Fans may obtain a bag at one of five tent locations: near the practice field, Graham Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, corner of Mint Street and Stonewall Street, corner of Morehead Street and Mint Street, or near the Morehead Street entrance to the stadium.
The North and East gates of Bank of America Stadium have been renovated to provide improved access with additional screening points of entry. For the most efficient, effective and quickest entry into the stadium, officials recommend the following:
• Arrive at the stadium gates 30 minutes earlier than you have in the past.
• Refrain from bringing items that require a bag check.
Review the complete list of prohibited items and bag policy.