Carolina (6-9) entered the season with plenty of promise but quarterback Cam Newton has had a sophomore slump of sorts and at times has had meltdowns on the sidelines during games. A three-game winning streak has taken some heat off of head coach Ron Rivera but at (3-9) talk of Rivera losing his job surfaced. Talk he told New Orleans reporters this week surprised him a bit.
“This week we’re playing the Saints and then after that we’ll just go forward and see what happens. That’s kind of been my approach,” Rivera said. “It’s crazy because you kind of wonder where it all came from and it never came from him and that’s the thing. I’m on the hot seat. At no point was I ever told that. I’m going to go through it and see what happens and as I’ve always said, it’s about getting our players ready to play on Sunday. We have the Saints and have to go to New Orleans and play them there. It’s going to be a tough football game.”
Like the Saints the Panthers could have more wins than their record currently indicates. “We looked at ourselves as a playoff contender that lost a couple of close games,” says Panthers receiver and form LSU Tigers wide out Brandon LaFell. “We gave two or three games away, the Seattle game, the first Atlanta game we played and also the Tampa Bay game we played at home. We feel if we had won those games we would have put ourselves in a better situation at the end of this year.”
In October, Carolina fired general manager Marty Hurney and so the uncertainty of the direction the Panthers will take has trickled into the locker room.
“We know we have a good coach here. Hopefully he’ll come back. We all want him back,” says LaFell. “We’re going to have a new GM, so we have to play for both ourselves and coach.”
Wednesday the NFL announced the starters for the Pro Bowl and Saints guard Jahri Evans and punter Thomas Morestead were selected.
It is the first time Morestead has been honored and earned a trip to Hawaii. “Still a little bit in disbelief I guess and I haven’t been able to celebrate yet because I still got one game left but it’s an awesome feeling for sure,” said Morestead Thursday. When asked about if he had scouted hot spots already in Hawaii Morestead responded,” No, no not yet. I know I can use a tan though.”
Kicking specialists appreciate their selections as Morestead points out long time veterans like John Kasey and John Carney were selected at the most twice in their 20-plus year careers.
“Every year it’s like you’re just trying to figure out a way to improve. Statistically you may not improve but it’s just trying to figure out how to do things a little bit better,” says Morestead. “It’s really hard to do. It’s not like other positions where they take two, three, four, five guys its one guy goes. It’d definitely a special thing and I won’t take it for granted.”
“He’s a guy that’ made an impression since he’s been here in his career,” said Saints special teams coordinator Greg McMahon Thursday. “Because of his work ethic and the kind of guy he is, you always pull for players like that. For him to be voted by his peers, coaches around the league and fans is good for our team and good for him.”
It is the fourth straight selection for Evans who has been steady despite signing a seven-year deal worth $56 million back in 2010 that made him the highest paid guard in the league. “I love the game. I love playing the game,” Evans says of his motivation. “I’ve always wanted to play this game since I was a little kid. I love playing it. I love to be successful and I love winning games. I love playing with the guys in this locker room and for the fans in this city that’s what drives me to play the game. Some guys turn it off or tank it down but I’m not one of those guys and we don’t have those guys in this locker room.” Evans showed he was a team player as he restructured his deal to be more cap friendly prior to this season.
A report on Thursday said that quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and tackle Jermon Bushrod were selected as alternates for the Pro Bowl. If an injury occurred or a member of the team in those spots reached the Super Bowl and could not play in the game then the three Saints could go to Hawaii.
Three Saints did not practice Thursday, running back Pierre Thomas (knee), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (knee), and cornerback Jabari Greer (concussion). Fullback Jed Collins (knee) practiced fully as did running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and tight end Jimmy Graham (wrist / finger).