ATLANTA — It has been a long time since I saw a Panthers locker room as flat-out happy as the one in the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon. Players posed for pictures and jumped on chairs and generally made good-natured fools of themselves as they celebrated a 12-4 regular season and an NFC South championship. And they lingered in their uniforms far longer than usual.
• The Monday after the NFL season is called “Black Monday” for a reason, as invariably it’s the day a number of head coaches and other front-office officials get fired. In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Panthers had speculation swirling all around the team on “Black Monday.”
Now they have speculation swirling, too – but who the opponent will be at the home playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 12. That’s a nice problem for Carolina to have.
• Kudos to all the Panther fans who invaded the Georgia Dome. They truly made a difference.
• If the Panthers are going to move the ball offensively, wideout Brandon LaFell must step it up. LaFell was targeted five times Sunday and had zero catches, despite getting his hands on two balls. He also had a holding penalty. Last week against New Orleans, LaFell had one catch for 13 yards.
• There was much merriment in the Carolina locker room Sunday about Melvin White’s awkward dive into the end zone, but it still worked for a touchdown. White made what I thought was the biggest play of the game when the Panthers were down 10-0 and playing terribly. He intercepted Matt Ryan and ran it in 8 yards for a touchdown, which closed the gap to 10-7 and made it a game.
“Mel finished the play and got it into the end zone,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said, “even if he had to crawl to get there.”
• The tributes for the final game of Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez were well-done and fitting – he is one of the best ever to play and has to be a first-ballot hall of famer. He also caught everything thrown at him – four catches for 56 yards the four times Ryan threw at him. He should have thrown at him more.
• The Panthers better hope No. 89 comes back soon. Cam Newton threw 14 passes toward his wide receivers Sunday. Although some couldn’t have been caught with ladders, several others begged for completions. But only four were caught (for 22 total yards).