Panthers confident heading to third Saints game

Jan 3, 2018 - 10:14 PM CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers aren't short on confidence going into the third encounter of the season with the New Orleans Saints.

The Panthers also know the results of the first two weren't favorable.

"They beat us twice this year," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We're going to have to bring our A game."

The Panthers and Saints have met twice annually since the Panthers joined the league as an expansion team, although this is the first matchup in the playoffs.

This is the first time since divisional realignment in 2002 that two NFC South teams collide in the postseason.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said this should be a great motivator for his team. It's a matter of identifying the glitches and find solutions.

"You've got a couple of really good tapes to watch of how they attacked you and what worked," Rivera said. "It's a good challenge."

Rivera said the Panthers should have a good idea of what to expect from the Saints. Both teams went all out in the December meeting when first place was on the line.

"Now we've seen what we can do," Rivera said. "We have a better feel."

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said the familiar factor is bound to be part of the backdrop for this playoff meeting.

"They know us. We know them," Newton said. "It's going to be about execution."

Turning to the playoffs makes it easier to avoid fussing about some of the missteps in last week's loss at Atlanta.

"It's time to put the regular season behind us and to understand it's the playoffs now," Kuechly said.

It's also important to build on the areas that allowed the Panthers to post an 11-5 record. They were good enough throughout the season to earn the right to play in January.

"We're in the playoffs," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We can't lose sight of that."

For Rivera, the foundation needs to start with the defense. That's what carried the Panthers through the first half of the season as the offense and Newton worked into shape and found rhythm.

So, it's the defense that needs to help establish a tone in New Orleans. Quarterback Drew Brees was 25-for-34 for 269 yards without an interception in the last game against the Panthers, so being more disruptive would be helpful.

Carolina ranked third in the NFL with 50 sacks.

"If we can play defense the way we've played, we'll give ourselves a chance to win football games," Rivera said.

The Panthers have been stingy with red-zone defense. The past two weeks, they allowed a total of two touchdowns on the opponents' 11 red-zone possessions.

Newton threw three of his 16 interceptions this season in last week's game at Atlanta.

"The great thing about this situation is that we have another opportunity," Newton said.

SERIES HISTORY: 47th all-time meeting. Panthers lead series, 24-22, although this will be the first postseason matchup. The Saints won 34-13 in Week 3 in Charlotte and then 31-21 on Dec. 3 in New Orleans.



--The Panthers are 1-2 this season in dome stadiums, winning at Detroit and losing at New Orleans and Atlanta.

Regardless of the venue, the Panthers would expect the postseason atmosphere to go to another level.

"This is playoff football," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We'll have a lot of hostile environments that we'll go into."

The Panthers' last two road games were in domes with the trips to New Orleans and Atlanta sandwiched around three December home games.

--The Panthers have tried to take a light-hearted approach regarding their depleted receiving corps.

Head coach Ron Rivera even wore a T-shirt with the names of unheralded players such as wide receivers Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay, Brenton Bersin and Mose Frazier.

Yet that quartet accounted for only three of the 14 completions last week in Atlanta.

Quarterback Cam Newton is taking responsibility.

"Guys aren't going to be scot free," Newton said. "Accuracy is something that has to be in place as well."

Wide receiver Devin Funchess is the go-to receiver, but the others are better fitted to be role players. That could put an emphasis on Newton rediscovering a better connection with tight end Greg Olsen for the playoff game.

NOTES: S Kurt Coleman insists he will be ready to play in New Orleans after missing the regular-season finale with an ankle injury. ... G Trai Turner missed two games because of a concussion, but his work has increased and that makes it possible that he could be on the field for the playoff game. ... K Graham Gano broke his franchise record by one for most touchbacks in a season with 70. The Panthers will be counting on more of those with the indoor conditions in New Orleans.






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