Here’s what Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera had to say about the Falcons during his conference call with the Atlanta media on Wednesday:
Q: Coming off the win over Washington, what was your message to your team?
A: “That we are playing all of these games to win. That’s the bottom line. There is a sliver of hope, there is always that possibility, you never know…we can harking back to the last three years, or actually two of the last three years that things have come down to the end of the year. We’ve been there before and we have that kind of ability if things fall the way that they possibly can, who knows what’s going to happen. There are possibilities so we said look, keep playing hard.”
Q: Have the Panthers embraced the role of a spoiler?
A: “It’s going nothing to do with spoiling. It’s got everything to do with winning football games. That’s what the whole discussion is with the football team. Everything that we do is about winning. It’s not about showing up. It’s not about getting through the day. It’s not about ….It’s about playing football to win. Like I told the guys, like Herm Edwards says, you play to win. That’s our whole focus.”
Q: How does it feel to see four of your players named to the Pro Bowl?
A: “It’s always good. You feel like the guys deserve it. They are recognizable in this league and have played very well and deserve the accolade. I very happy for them. I’m very pleased and like all head coaches you feel like you have two or three or four more that deserve, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Q: How have you felt about Cam Newton’s play as of late?
A: “He’s played very well. He’s had his ups and downs, but for the most part the guy works hard and he’s really kind of putting it all together now. I think a big part of it has been that we’ve got some continuity up front. For the first time, we’ve had a group of guys that have started together for four straight games. He feels comfortable and you can see him… his confidence is growing in those guys. You see him stepping into throws a lot more and really be able to throw as he’s driving into the ball.”
Q: Do you have an updated on Luke Kuechly and how have you all adjusted with him on the sideline?
A: “For the most part, Luke has cleared the protocol, but I’m looking at the possibility and the situation as we go forward. He wants to be on the football field. That’s the first thing that I have to do …. He and I have to sit down down and we’ve talked about things just so that he understands the things that I have to consider. This is not an easy decision. You have to make smart, prudent decisions going forward. I intend to cease it…I want to make sure that the decision that’s being make each week is the smart one.”
Q: What’ changed about the Falcons since the last meeting?
A: “When you watch them, they are still that dynamic football team. They are explosive on offense. The biggest thing right now is that Julio hasn’t been as healthy as he was earlier in the year. He’s still a big part of it. They still run the ball very well. I think the quarterback is doing some really good things and making some good decisions. He’s having a heck of a year. I’m not sure how much they’ve changed as far as that is concerned. Defensively, they are still opportunistic. They try to make plays. These guys run around and they play hard. It’s a good team and their special teams are solid, too. You got a guy like Eric Weems, who goes out and makes things happen. You have to account for him.”
Q: How much progress have their young players made on defense? Guys like Vic Beasley and Deion Jones.
A: “They’ve made a lot of progress. You see their contributions. I think both of those young guys are solid football players. I know that Vic plays that outside linebacking/defensive end hybrid position. He plays it very well. Deion is a young and up-and-coming solid linebacker in this league. You can see it. I know they lost probably their best corner… They have a group of guys who are playing hard for them.”
Q: What makes this rivalry special to you?
A: “We are so close in proximity. We have a lot of guys from the Atlanta area. ..they want to be able to beat their home time and have bragging rights. I think that’s all part of it?”