Panthers coach: Better to win than think draft

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comDecember 21, 2011 

— Panthers coach Ron Rivera has heard the chatter suggesting the Panthers are hurting their draft position having won three of their past four games.

The chance of the Panthers landing one of the top three picks in the draft has evaporated and, at the moment, it appears they will likely draft somewhere between sixth and 10th though the order remains fluid based on the last two weeks of the regular season.

Rivera isn't concerned about draft position.

"I think there's enough good football players that you don't have to worry about where you finish in the draft," Rivera said.

"The best part is we don't have to worry about the quarterback position. There are going to be some good quarterbacks coming out in the draft but believe me, I'm more than happy with our guy."

He feels similarly about a potential third-place finish in the NFC South. If the Panthers beat Tampa Bay Sunday, they will clinch third place in the division. It will determine two games on the 2012 schedule - pitting them against the third place teams from the NFC North and the NFC West.

"If we finish in front of the (Bucs), great. Obviously, I would like to," Rivera said.

"But in the same respect, to me the ultimate goal is to win. If you win enough, obviously, you should finish better than that. That's what we're hoping to do.

"I guess it goes back to having been a player in college and listening to these guys lose a game and say, well, we just want to win the Pac-10. Well, if you win the national championship, you win the Pac-10. That's the way I look at it. If you win the Super Bowl, you've done that. That's why I guess I try to look at the ultimate goal."

RECORD KEEPING: Two significant records could fall Saturday. Wide receiver Steve Smith needs five catches to surpass Muhsin Muhammad as the Panthers' all-time receptions leader. Muhammad has 696 career receptions followed by Smith at 692 and Wesley Walls a distant third with 324 receptions.

Quarterback Cam Newton needs 18 passing yards to break Peyton Manning's rookie record of 3,739 yards set in 1998.

Also, running back Jonathan Stewart needs four rushing yards to move into second place on the Panthers' all-time rushing list behind DeAngelo Williams. DeShaun Foster is in second place with 3,336 yards. Stewart also needs two catches to surpass Nick Goings' single-season record of 45 receptions by a running back in 2004.

EYEING THE BUCS: What was supposed to have been a big season in Tampa Bay has turned into a bust. The Bucs have lost eight in a row coming to Charlotte to face the Panthers on Christmas Eve. Offensive tackle Jordan Gross isn't expecting anything to be easy.

"Tampa's definitely going to be hungry for a win. They've had a tough skid lately," Gross said. "When we played them last time, we got the upper hand. So it's not going to be an easy game for us. They had an extra day of rest than we did. It's our last home game, so we definitely need to win."

STANDING TALL: Linebacker Jordan Senn was considered primarily a special teams player prior to the injuries that have gutted the Panthers' linebacking corps this season.

Forced into a prominent role on defense, Senn had his most productive game Sunday, piling up 14 tackles in the Panthers' victory over the Texans. Though he's considered undersized for a linebacker at 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Senn has had a big impact.

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