When the doors to the Panthers locker room opened to the media Wednesday afternoon, there was a scrum of players at the far end of the room wrestling, rough-housing and yelling while playfully egging their teammates on.
If the Panthers (9-4) were still wallowing in their lopsided loss to New Orleans last weekend, they had an odd way of showing it.
Everyone emerged from the pile pitting the receivers and running backs against the defensive line unharmed and wearing a smile. It was a light moment for a team ready to flush the New Orleans trip from their memories and get back to the business of earning the franchises first playoff berth in five years.
Their next scrum wont be in the locker room; it will be Sunday against the New York Jets.
Were all pros. The main thing that we really have to do is over with, just forget about it. ... The whole team is kind of like that Hey man, that game is over with. Lets move forward, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said. We understand what we did wrong. We just want to move forward and concentrate on the Jets. And keep our path going, stay together in the room as one.
Ginn said Wednesdays mock wrestling and air punches were in good fun, and illustrated the close-knit nature of this team.
It kind of just shows what type of team that we have. We can come in and have fun and just enjoy ourselves, Ginn said. Theres a lot of (team) building. Theres a lot of camaraderie. You see the defense stick together like they stick together for one another. And then the offense stick together like we stick together for one another.
Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said the wrestling started when a few offensive players were giving defensive end Charles Johnson a hard time.
The running backs and receivers like to mess around a little bit. They messed around with Chuck and the D-line just came out to get his back, Lotulelei said. Steve (Smith) and (Brandon) LaFell and D-lo (DeAngelo Williams) all up in there, (Mike) Tolbert. Just having a little fun.
Quarterback Cam Newton, who wasnt involved in the locker room antics, said he thought the Panthers had good energy at practice Wednesday their first since seeing their eight-game winning streak end in the 31-13 loss at the Superdome.
Newton politely declined to answer a question about the Saints game, saying he was zeroing in on the Jets (6-7), who beat Oakland 37-27 last weekend to snap a three-game slide.
Carolina will get a rematch with New Orleans (10-3) on Dec. 22 in Charlotte, but Newton said the Panthers will not overlook the Jets.
Theres no such thing as a trap game in this league. Each and every game you have to be ready, Newton said. We dont have the luxury of looking past and saying, Well, were going to beat the Jets. Were just looking for New Orleans. Because this Jets team is a very good team.
With the running game those guys have, with the rookie quarterback (Geno Smith) that has the capability of being great and with a solid defense, this is a game were looking forward to playing.
Smith became the first quarterback since the 1970 league merger to post four fourth-quarter, game-winning drives in his first seven games. But he also went five games without a touchdown pass before throwing one against the Raiders.
Smiths 20 interceptions are tied with the Giants Eli Manning for the most in the league.
The Jets have the No. 2 run defense behind only the Panthers and are clinging to their playoff hopes. Rex Ryans team is 3-0 against the NFC South this season, including a 26-20 win against New Orleans on Nov. 3.
Our team was so hot and cold. Were a young football team. Im not excusing it, thats kind of where we are. Were really not very consistent, Ryan said. Weve been up and down the whole season, but yeah, (the record vs. the NFC South) is something. I hope that trend continues so we play well against this division, but certainly we recognize the challenge in front of us.
Newton, sacked five times by the Saints, said he has to improve in several areas getting rid of the ball quicker, staying with his first read longer and giving his receivers a better chance on deep throws. Newtons longest completion against New Orleans was a 17-yard touchdown pass to Smith.
Newton has been known to cut up in practice to keep the mood loose. He often wears the No. 2 jersey of injured quarterback Jimmy Clausen to Friday practices.
But Newton isnt sure any of that matters on Sundays.
What goes on in a locker room really doesnt have anything to do with on-the-field performance. ... We can kid around in the locker room, outside of football, he said. But come the time that we are supposed to focus, thats when our energy and everything is supposed to be on football.
And to hear the Panthers talk Wednesday, that focus is squarely on the Jets.
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