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Panthers’ Defense Praised, Rivera Tells Team Saints’ 2011 Points Run-Up Was ‘Just Football’

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(credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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Maybe he didn’t say it right. Did he get tongue twisted? Was his mind still stuck on last Sunday’s loss in Tampa? Was he feeling under the weather?

After Wednesday’s practice, Cam Newton stepped in front of the microphone to address the media and the quarterback did a double-reverse on everyone by praising, wait for it, the Carolina defense. No kidding, the same defense that finished 27th out of 32 teams in 2011.

“You go back and watch the game, we had our opportunities,” he said. “I think the defense did enough for us, for the offense to carry us to a win.”

There it was, in the middle of all the talk about 11 guys having to gel to put points on the board, Newton gave the guys on the other side of the ball their props. Sure, it’s only one week, but look at who is ranked No. 5 in total defense – The Carolina Panthers.

Newton didn’t stay around very long (less than three minutes), but head coach Ron Rivera was happy to pick up the ball and continued to run with it.

“I think the things that were really good about what we did defensively was that we bounced back,” he said. “After the first series they went down and scored. I though Sean (McDermott, the defensive coordinator) and the rest of the defensive coaches handled them very well on the sideline just telling them to make adjustments, telling them what to expect. I thought the three-and-outs were outstanding [and] the goal line stand really made a statement about the type of physical football team we want to be.”

Will the Panthers stay at or around number five? Probably not with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints scoring juggernaut in town this Sunday. But that doesn’t mean they are not improved over last year’s edition.

Looking ahead, not back

Rivera doesn’t put much stock in what the Saints did to his team on the final week of the 2011 season when they seemingly ran up the score (the final was 45-17) to set team and individual records. The head coach said it was just football.

“In my opinion, if you don’t like it, do something about it,” Rivera said about some of the players taking exception to what New Orleans did. “Your actions speak louder than your words. If that’s what they are and who they are as a football team, if you don’t like it, do something about it.  You can be upset or mad about it, I’m just as upset about getting beat. If you don’t like getting beat, then win.”

“We’re just going to go forward and we look forward to playing them this Sunday,” he said.

Bracing for impact

Steve Smith hit the practice field wearing a knee brace that Rivera said was just a precaution because he took a shot in Sunday’s game.

“He felt a little sore today so he wanted to put a brace on it and run around to see how he felt and it was still aggravating him so we practiced him in a limited capacity.”

Smith should be okay for Sunday’s tilt at Bank of America Stadium.

A little help from a friend

The Panthers got some good news when Jonathan Stewart participated in a full practice Wednesday. The running back was anxious to get back in action after he missed just the third game of his career last Sunday.  He injured his ankle in the preseason game against the Jets and Coach Rivera was happy to see him out on the field again.

“They’ll treat [the ankle] tonight and tomorrow and we’ll see how it is in the morning but I expect him to be out there again,” Rivera said. “It was very good to see him and I think his teammates were happy to see him out there as well.”

While Stewart may not be 100% come Sunday, his presence is just the shot in the arm Cam Newton and the Panthers offense need.  

For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Panthers news, see CBS Sports Charlotte.

Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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