The Carolina Panthers won 15 games this season, more than anyone else in the NFL.
With all those successes, coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton were split over how much the Oct. 18 win over the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks meant. But as the teams prepare to meet again Sunday in the NFC playoffs, Rivera believes it meant something.
Seahawks (11-6) at Panthers (15-1), 10:05 a.m., Sunday, Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM
“Anytime you can have success against a very, very good opponent you have confidence,” he said Wednesday in a conference call from Charlotte, North Carolina. “We were able to beat Green Bay this year. We were able to beat Indianapolis. We beat the Texans. We beat good football teams this year. And we were fortunate, we had some good things happen our way. And I think being able to beat Seattle was huge for us. It does most certainly give credence to confidence.”
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The Seahawks lead by 13 points in the third quarter and 23-14 with 11:46 left in the game — usually a pretty secure advantage at CenturyLink Field. But Newton led the Panthers back with a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives to secure the 27-23 win.
“It just shows you his confidence and comfort in what we do, more than anything else,” Rivera said. “You do what you do against the people you play, and if you have confidence in what you’re doing, you’re going to have success. And he’s playing with confidence right now, and that’s a huge plus for us.”
You do what you do against the people you play, and if you have confidence in what you’re doing, you’re going to have success.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera
The winning score was a 26-yard pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen with 32 seconds left. With it, Newton ended the day with 20 completions in 36 attempts for 269 yards. He had one touchdown, two interceptions and a modest passer rating of 65.5. But the result pushed Carolina to a 5-0 start.
Still, Newton on Wednesday downplayed any particular boost from knocking off the Hawks.
“It didn’t show pretty much anything, because a lot of people didn’t even believe in us then,” Newton said. “They said it was a fluke, or what have you. We just have been starting fresh each and every week, understanding that if we play our game and trust coaching, and do the things that we know we’re capable of doing we can win any game.”
The Panthers very nearly did win every game that they played in.
(The Oct. 18 win at Seattle) didn’t show pretty much anything, because a lot of people didn’t even believe in us then. They said it was a fluke, or what have you.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton
After preserving their perfection in Seattle, they pushed on to a 14-0 start on their way to a 15-1 regular season and the top seed in the conference. All that separated them from an unbeaten regular season was a 20-13 loss in Atlanta.
“Our goal is, one, to make the playoffs and to try to get an NFC championship and take care of things of that sort first,” Newton said. “Sixteen-and-0 was a good goal, but when it was done, it was over with. The season still goes on, and finishing 15-1 is pretty elite. (But) that’s null and void right now, especially when it’s win-or-go-home philosophy in the playoffs right now.”
Rivera: RB Stewart, WR Ginn, S Coleman to play vs. Seattle
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said running back Jonathan Stewart, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and safety Kurt Coleman will play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs.
All three starters participated fully in practice Wednesday.
“Those guys got a lot of good work in and (the bye week) served its purpose,” Rivera said.
Getting Stewart, who played at Timberline High School in Lacey, back will be a huge plus for the Panthers against the league’s No. 1 ranked run defense.
Stewart ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle on Oct. 18.
The Pro Bowl running back ran for 989 yards and six touchdowns before injuring his foot in Week 14 and missing the final three weeks of the regular season.
The Panthers have the league’s No. 2-ranked running game.
“We feel good about him,” Rivera said of Stewart. “No limitations.”
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (leg) and safety Kurt Coleman (foot) also returned to work after sitting out Week 17, a game in which the Panthers beat Tampa Bay to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Ginn caught 44 passes this season for the Panthers — including a team-high 10 touchdown receptions — and averaged 16.6 yards per catch. He gives the Panthers a deep threat that can help stretch the defense and open things up for tight end Greg Olsen to operate underneath the coverage.
Coleman tied for second in the league in interceptions with seven.
The only player who did not practice Wednesday for the Panthers was backup running back Fozzy Whittaker, who could still miss another week or so while recovering from a high ankle sprain.
The Associated Press contributed to this story