We haven't done a Paw Prints in a while and given there is so much to talk about I thought it would be a good way to cover a lot of topics. We have a number of good stories from this week's victory over the Bucs starting with our newest member.
I'm sure your familiar with Jonathan Nelson and his big contribution. What I love is how he said the Panthers staff made it easy for him and what he had to say about the atmosphere in the locker room
Nelson delivers on short notice
"When the day started, I was thinking special teams, and then maybe I'll spell some guys if they're tired or happen to get nicked up," Nelson said. "But when they told me an hour before the game, it actually wasn't too jaw-dropping just because the environment around here as far as the coaches and players, they don't put too much pressure on you. "It's not like everybody is sweating bullets around here. You have guys like Sherrod and Charles that are like, 'Hey, just go in there and do what you do.' It makes it real simple."
I take the 'not sweating bullets' thing as a positive, that the Panthers have a very confident, supportive and open environment in the clubhouse. I think it portends a place players want to come and play. I bet we get serious looks from any free agent we reach out too this offseason.
I highlight this next one because I am in fear that CB Chris Gamble will be the biggest snub for the Pro Bowl team.
"Also, watch the way Chris Gamble played. There were three instances in the game where Gamble made tackles inside the box as a corner. That to me is impressive. That speaks really high of him."
This plays to Gamble's ability to diagnose a play quickly and react, the same reason so many QBs are loath to throw at him.
I was very happy to read the Panthers were very focused on ending this negative trend:
"The third quarter has kind of been our nemesis. We've really had a lot of letdowns, so to come out still hot was great," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We had a three-and-out in the third quarter, and everybody was upset about it. That was good a sign."
A 21-0 3rd quarter is a good sign indeed. Let's toast to future 3rd quarter success [clink of glasses].
In the 'good news on the injury front' department Ron Rivera reports he is very impressed with Jeff Otah's work ethic:
"Jeff's here every day working out, doing a heck of a job. Real happy about what he's done," Rivera said. "Truthfully, it's one of those things where you do it reluctantly, saying four to six weeks he could be healthy. But you go, 'Yeah, but what if he's not?'"
It sounds like Otah could play now if he wasn't on IR. I love the sound of that. I know many of you out there are ready to throw in the towel on Otah but if BAMF likes what he is seeing then I think we should all be excited that our road grader will be back and healthy next season for our 2012 run to the Super Bowl.
You won;t catch me playing the game of 'What Ifs' when you have three games that need different outcomes, but it nice to see that as bad as the season seemed to start, in the end we were only a handful of plays from being in competition for a WC slot.
Prevent the late punt return touchdown in the opener at Arizona. Get the Minnesota game into overtime with a last-second field goal. Don't collapse during the second half in the second game against Atlanta. Flip the outcome of those games and that's nine wins and so much is different.
"Just dwelling on what could have been. In my mind, I always think about that," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We're a couple plays away from being a top contender in the playoffs - with turnovers, miscues, games that were lost under seven points. "That's not a skill set. That's not the team's better than us. That's not got outplayed. That's just a small thing of whether this particular person, whether myself, whether another person, didn't get it and were not thorough throughout the game. We've just got to focus on that in the offseason."
It's an understatement to say this team is riding a lot of confidence right now.
Speaking of which, a serious shot of confidence could come from a season closing victory over the Saints, provided the Saints have something to play for:
Panthers expect Saints' best shot | CharlotteObserver.com & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper
"You want their best shot, because you want to give your best shot and you want to take their best shot. And for us it's the measuring stick," Rivera said Monday. "This team is one of those teams that you do want to measure yourself against because of who they are, the quality of players they are, how well they're coached, going into their environment. "There's going to be a lot at stake for them as well. So we can most certainly still have an impact on the playoffs."
As it stands now if the Saints win and the 49ers lose then they get the #2 seed and a bye. I would think that is something to play for.