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December 31, 2013

McDermott to interview for Redskins' job

Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will interview for the Redskins' head-coaching vacancy this weekend in Charlotte, a league source with knowledge of the situation told the Observer on Tuesday.

McDermott, 39, is in third season with the Panthers after spending more than a decade in the Eagles' organization.

Under McDermott, the Panthers have improved from 28th in the league in total defense in his first season in 2011 to second this year. Carolina also is second in scoring defense and rushing defense.

McDermott said Monday he believes he is ready to become a head coach, but his focus is on the Panthers' playoff preparations. Carolina (12-4) has a first-round bye before hosting a divisional-round game Jan. 12.

The Redskins are looking for a replacement for Mike Shanahan, who was fired Monday -- a year after leading Washington to the playoffs. Shanahan was 24-40 in four seasons in Washington.

The Redskins also have asked to interview Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, according to published reports.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2013 at 01:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

Greg Hardy again named NFC Defensive Player of the Week

Greg Hardy will have his cereal and eat it, too.

Two days after the Panthers defensive end dominated his breakfast and then the Atlanta Falcons, Hardy was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 17 following his four-sack day against the Falcons.

“He's been practicing that way the last few weeks. You ask his teammates about how well he's been practicing,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Monday. “It's almost scary because he's flying around like that on Fridays as well. So there's something that's kind of clicked in him right now and he's done a heck of a job.”

Hardy’s four sacks, among the nine of the day, set a team record last week against the Falcons, and he tied the franchise’s season-single sack record of 15.

It’s the fifth NFC Defensive Player of the Week honor for the Panthers this year, making Carolina only the third NFC team to accomplish after the 1992 Vikings and 2000 Saints.

It’s a repeat honor for Hardy, who was selected with the same honor in Week 3 after a three-sack game against the Giants. Other winners include linebacker Thomas Davis after a 10-tackle, two-sack game against the Vikings and two-time winner Luke Kuechly for his efforts against San Francisco and two weeks ago against the Saints.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2013 at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

December 30, 2013

McDermott says he's ready to be a head coach

As he does every Monday during his weekly meeting with the media, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott began with an opening statement.

Those opening remarks are typical of how head coaches begin their press briefings, which is what McDermott said is his career aspiration.

With at least six head-coaching vacancies around the league, McDermott could have a chance to reach that goal in the coming weeks.

He's a young (39), up-and-coming assistant for a 12-4, playoff-bound team who oversees the league's second-ranked defense.

McDermott was honest and direct Monday. Asked if he believed he was ready to be a head coach, McDermott said: "I do."

But McDermott said that's not his main focus.

"When you win, sometimes good things happen and people get opportunities. If that happens, so be it. That's part of the process," McDermott said. "But I'm just focused on getting this defense as good as we can get it for the next couple of weeks in this playoff run."

Assistant coaches on playoff teams with a first-round bye have a one-day window to interview for head-coaching positions on Jan. 5.

McDermott said he has not yet heard from any teams.

But McDermott, the son of a Division II coach in Pennsylvania, said becoming a head coach is his ultimate goal when the time is right.

"I'm not going to rush it. I'm a guy that believes in faith and whenever that's meant to be, that's going to happen. And so be it," McDermott said. "Those things happen. They're a result of good players and good coaches, and I've been very fortunate to have both."

The Panthers led the league with a team-record 60 sacks, topped by a nine-sack performance Sunday at Atlanta. The nine sacks were a franchise, single-game record, breaking the former mark of seven sacks.

The Panthers finished second behind Seattle in total defense (allowing 301.2 yards a game) and scoring defense (15.1 points a game). They also were second in rushing defense (86.9 yards a game).

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 30, 2013 at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

FAQ: The Panthers are in the playoffs, now what?

I just got in from Atlanta and the NFL playoffs are set, but there are still plenty of questions I'm getting about the hows and whats of the postseason.

I've put together a list of frequently asked questions and the answers to those. If you have more questions, leave it in the comment section or tweet me @jjones9.

When do the Panthers play next? Carolina will play on Jan. 12 at 1:05 p.m. at home. The divisional round game will be broadcast on FOX.

The Panthers are the No. 2 seed. How do playoff seedings work? Playoff seeds have already been determined and are set through the conference title games. The NFC seeds, in order, are Seattle, Carolina, Philadelphia, Green Bay, San Francisco and New Orleans. Records no longer matter in regard to seeding. The top four seeds are division winners followed by two wild card teams. The seedings are set through the conference playoffs and teams are not re-seeded based on postseason victories, opponents, regular-season records or anything else.

Who will the Panthers play on Jan. 12? That's a question the Panthers would love to know now so they could start preparing two weeks in advance. Carolina could play one of three teams: Philadelphia, Green Bay or San Francisco. The Panthers could not play Seattle or New Orleans in that round. The Seahawks, as the No. 1 seed, will face the team with the lower seed that wins in the Wild Card round while the Panthers will get the higher seed. For example, if No. 3 Philadelphia beats No. 6 New Orleans and No. 5 San Francisco beats No. 4 Green Bay, the Eagles will travel to Carolina because they're seeded higher than the 49ers. 

When will we know who Carolina plays on Jan. 12? New Orleans plays at Philadelphia on Jan. 4 at 8:10 p.m. If the Eagles win, the Panthers will know that night they are playing the Eagles. If New Orleans wins, the Saints will know they're playing the Seahawks, and the winner of the San Francisco-Green Bay game on Jan. 5 at 4:40 p.m. will travel to Carolina.

How can I get tickets to the Jan. 12 game? A limited number of tickets will go on sale Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. You can order them by phone, in person at a Ticketmaster center on online at ticketmaster.com. For more information, click here.

How can the Panthers get two home playoff games? If Carolina wins Jan. 12, the Panthers could host the NFC Championship Game only if Seattle loses in the divisional round. The Seahawks have home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

When is the NFC Championship Game? Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. on FOX. It will follow the AFC Championship Game, which airs on CBS at 3 p.m. the same day.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on December 30, 2013 at 01:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 29, 2013

With Smith out, Panthers could go run-heavy vs. Falcons

ATLANTA

The Panthers' three injured starters highlight the inactive list for Sunday's game against the Falcons.

In addition to the injured trio of WR Steve Smith, RB Jonathan Stewart and DT Colin Cole, the Panthers' other inactives are WR Tavarres King, backup LB Dan Connor, OL Travis Bond and CB Josh Norman.

Smith, missing his first game in three seasons with a sprained left knee, made the trip to Atlanta, which should help the sideline morale and energy.

While much of the attention this week has focused on how receivers Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon will fare in Smith's absence, the key for the Panthers very well could be running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert and tight end Greg Olsen.

The Falcons have the league's second-worst rushing defense, allowing 135.9 yards a game.

And Olsen, the team's leading receiver, has proven all year to be a dependable target for Cam Newton.

Newton's ankle also will need to be watched closely. After twisting his ankle last week against New Orleans, Newton's mobility was clearly affected.

Newton has insisted his ankle is fine. But if he tweaks it, Ron Rivera has said the Panthers might have to alter the game plan.

Again, that likely means pounding the ball in the run game.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 27, 2013

Newton, Kuechly headline five Panthers heading to 2014 Pro Bowl

The Panthers have five tickets to paradise.

Quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly headline a five-player class heading to Hawaii for the 2014 Pro Bowl on Jan. 26, the NFL announced Friday night.

Newton and Kuechly are joined by fullback Mike Tolbert, center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Greg Hardy as the Carolina representatives in the all-star event.

It’s the most players the Panthers have sent to the Pro Bowl since the 1996 season when seven players went.

It’s the second trip for Newton, who played as an alternate following his Offensive Rookie of the Year season in 2011. Newton shot up the rankings in fan voting in the final week, going from ninth to fifth when the final fan votes were announced Friday afternoon.

Kuechly, who was second among inside linebackers in fan voting, is going to his first Pro Bowl. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year is a contender for Defensive Player of the Year this season with 146 tackles and four interceptions to lead the NFL’s second-ranked defense.

Kalil is the most experienced of the group going to Hawaii. This will be the center’s fourth Pro Bowl appearance after he went from 2009-2011. His annual trip was interrupted last year when he broke his foot early in the season, but he’s returned to form this season to anchor the Panthers’ offensive line.

Along with Kuechly, Tolbert and Hardy will be new to the Pro Bowl. Tolbert finished first in fan voting among fullbacks. He’s Carolina’s third leading rusher with 332 yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. Hardy’s 11 sacks this season leads the team and ties a career high.

With the new Pro Bowl format this season, players will not be on teams based on their team’s conference. Instead, a draft will be held on Jan. 22 to determine the teams named after Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.

Noticeably absent from the group is outside linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis, who’s in the midst of the best season of his career, didn’t crack the top 10 in fan voting and didn’t get enough votes from the players and coaches to get an automatic bid.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on December 27, 2013 at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Smith, Stewart out Sunday vs. Falcons

The Panthers will be without three starters Sunday in the regular-season finale at Atlanta, but their status looks promising for the playoffs.

Receiver Steve Smith (knee), running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) and defensive tackle Colin Cole (calf) have been ruled out for the game against the Falcons.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera seemed optimistic that Smith in particular would be available next week if the Panthers had to play a first-round game as a wild card.

"I'd like to believe so, knowing who he is," Rivera said Friday. "Don't bet against him."

All of the injured players would be better served if the Panthers (11-4) win Sunday to clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye. Smith has a sprained posterior cruciate ligament, an injury that usually takes two to three weeks to heal.

Stewart, who has a partially torn medial collateral ligament, will miss his third consecutive game Sunday. Stewart worked out with a trainer on the sideline Friday, and Rivera said he was excited about his recovery.

Quarterback Cam Newton is probable with an ankle injury he sustained last week against the Saints. Newton was at full participation for both of the Panthers' practices this week.

Backup strong safety Robert Lester is questionable after having his ankle stepped on during Friday's practice.

Marvin McNutt will be active for the first time as the Panthers' No. 4 receiver against the Falcons.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 27, 2013 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 26, 2013

A look at the 2014 Panthers schedule

It's never too early to look at next year, even though the Panthers' focus is firmly rooted on next week's opponent and beyond into the postseason.

Here's a look at Carolina's 2014 schedule now that we know the Panthers are securely in the playoffs. Carolina will play teams from the AFC North and NFC North in 2014.

Home

Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and an opponent from the NFC West.

Carolina can finish No. 1 or 2 in the NFC South, so the opponent from the NFC West--whichever team finishes with the same divisional seed as Carolina--is still in the air. The NFC West is still up for grabs between San Francisco and Seattle. It's possible the Seahawks travel to Charlotte for the third consecutive year.

Away

Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore, Cincinnati and an opponent from the NFC East.

The Panthers will travel to either Philadelphia or Dallas next season, depending upon which seed the Eagles or the Cowboys get.

The Vikings will be playing outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota's football team, while their new stadium is being built.

In recent years, the NFL has announced dates and times of games in April.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on December 26, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

December 24, 2013

Luke Kuechly wins NFC Defensive Player of the Week

Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week after collecting a franchise-record 26 tackles and an interception in the 17-13 win against New Orleans.

It's the second such honor this season for Kuechly and the third of his career, tying him with former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers for the most in team history.

Kuechly was credited with 24 tackles in the official press box stats, tying him with Jets linebacker David Harris, who had 24 in a game against Washington in 2007, for the most in the league since 1994, according to STATS LLC.

Team officials added two more stops to Kuechly's total after the coaches' film review. Former Panthers linebacker James Anderson had the previous high for tackles in a regular-season game with 20.

Kuechly deflected praise when told of the award Tuesday.

"There's a bunch of other good players out there on the defensive side of the ball you've watched the whole year, guys that have made plays in all games," Kuechly said.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 24, 2013 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 23, 2013

Steve Smith has sprained knee ligament

Panthers receiver Steve Smith has a sprained posterior cruciate ligament and will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis, coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

Smith is "highly doubtful" to play Week 17 at Atlanta, but Rivera said the news could have been worse.

"It was very good news considering the alternative," Rivera said. "Where he sprained it and how lack of severity there was, that was all positive news. It really was. And I’m excited and very happy with Steve."

Smith was injured while planting to jump for a Cam Newton pass in the first quarter Sunday against the Saints. He returned for one play in the second quarter before limping off the field.

Smith was at Bank of America Stadium receiving treatment Monday after undergoing an MRI exam.

"He said well it doesn’t feel very good right now, coach," Rivera said. "We do know Steve. Steve’s tenacious and he’ll do everything he can. He’s going to work very, very hard."

In the meantime, Ted Ginn Jr. will slide up the depth chart, alongside receiver Brandon LaFell. Domenik Hixon, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass against the Saints, will also be in the rotation and could end up starting.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

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