Carolina Panthers: Josh Thomas

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas bites his tongue when coaches use his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in last year's NFC playoff loss to San Francisco as an example of what happens when a player loses his cool.

That says a lot about the fourth-year player hoping to reclaim his starting job.

Thomas easily could point to the appeal he won against the NFL, which fined him $7,000 on top of the 15-yard penalty he got in the game that ended any hope the Panthers had in the 23-10 loss.

He doesn't. Thomas wants the Carolina defensive backs to learn from that situation as he did.

In this case, Thomas learned that when the officials are calling penalties the way they were -- unfairly in his mind -- you have to be more aware than normal of everything you do.

In his case, the officials fined Smith for taking a swing at wide receiver Quinton Patton with about four minutes left on a third-and-10 play that gained only 2 yards.

Let's let Thomas pick it up from here.

"You look at it, it looks as if I tried to strike the guy,'' Thomas said. "His head was between my legs. So when I went to toss him down and as he was getting up, he was pulling me down. So when I went to club at his hand, it looked like I tried to strike him.''

Thomas said the official that overturned his fine saw that when reviewing the play.

The official also told Thomas to take it as a learning experience. He is, which is why he doesn't defend himself when it's used by Carolina coaches.

"As a player this year, looking back at that playoff game when it was as sketchy [officiating] as it was, you've got to know the kind of situation that you're in, how they're going to call the game,'' Thomas said. "I feel they were calling a bad game the whole game in terms out of fairness. I just know now to avoid those kind of situations, just to keep it clean.''

To be fair, there were questionable calls that were costly to Carolina. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was penalized for head-butting and safety Mike Mitchell was called for unnecessary roughness. Neither was fined.

San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin was fined for head-butting Mitchell but not penalized in the game. That led to a 1-yard San Francisco touchdown just before the half.

Thomas said there's no doubt he didn't lose his cool.

"I'm a physical player by nature,'' he said. "Anytime I do anything on the field with my hands and getting into a receiver, it's always going to draw a lot of attention.''

Thomas wants to draw attention this season for his performance. He lost favor with the coaches last season and went from a starter to inactive for a handful of games.

He believes he can still be a starter even though he missed the first week of training camp with back spasms and the coaches consistently have put Melvin White and Antoine Cason with the first team. He also has to contend with Charles Godfrey, making the transition from safety to corner, rookie Bene' Benwikere and Josh Norman.

Thomas doesn't care.

Asked if he could be a starter, he answered with the confidence you expect to see in a player who basically works on an island.

"Can I be a starter?,'' Thomas said. "Man, I was a starter before. There you go. I feel like the sky is the limit for me.''

Hey, he already won an appeal.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 9

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • When coach Ron Rivera said Sunday's practice was a "big-time tone down'' he wasn't joking. After six days in pads, players were given a break with shorts and shells. The tempo wasn't nearly as fast after one of the more physical practices of camp on Saturday. At one point offensive line assistant Ray Brown began cracking jokes when his group moved from the sun to the shade for a drill. "Modern day NFL! Y'all get water,'' he said sarcastically. The players will get another break with an off day Monday before reporting back to Wofford College on Monday night. It will give the coaches a chance to break down tape and evaluate.
  • General manager Dave Gettleman stopped in his tracks and shook his head when he saw 14 players working with trainers on stationary bicycles and other conditioning devices during practice. He wasn't really surprised after remembering Saturday's practice, which focused on short yardage and goal-line plays, was so physical, and many of the players were sidelined with soreness. Among those who didn't practice were defensive ends Charles Johnson (hamstring) and Greg Hardy (shoulder contusion). Both are expected to play in Friday night's exhibition opener against Buffalo.
  • Among those who missed practice was Charles Godfrey, who is making the transition from safety to corner. While Godfrey watched, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas continued to work their way back into the rotation after missing much of the first week of camp with injuries. Thomas sent wide receiver Toney Clemons over his shoulder with a sideline hit, and Norman made a nice aggressive play on a deep pass to Tiquan Underwood, who needs to make those plays to make the final roster. As I've said before, the toughest cuts on this team are going to come at corner, where a returning veteran or two might not make it. At this point, I wouldn't say Godfrey is a lock, although coaches want to give him every opportunity because of his leadership.
  • First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin not only is the favorite target of quarterback Cam Newton, he's a fan favorite. They cheer when he gets a drink of water. On Sunday, they cheered when he caught a pass three yards out of bounds. Granted, it once again showed his athletic ability the way he went high to get it, but in the eyes of those sitting on the grassy hill, the former Florida State wide receiver can do no wrong.
  • The Panthers return to practice at 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, but don't be surprised if it's moved to the morning. Rivera did that when the Panthers returned from their first day off.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As I said this week, not all head-butts are created equal.

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was penalized for a first-quarter head-butt against San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree in Sunday's 23-10 loss to the 49ers, but was not fined by the NFL.

San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin was not penalized for his second-quarter head-butt of Carolina safety Mike Mitchell, but was fined $7,875 by the NFL.

The penalty against Munnerlyn led to a San Francisco field goal. The lack of a penalty against Boldin after a first-down catch to the Carolina 9-yard line led to a 49ers' touchdown with five seconds left in the first half.

In other words, instead of first-and-goal from the 24, the 49ers had first-and-goal from the 9.

That had a dramatic impact in the game, as San Francisco went into halftime ahead 13-10. Had the 49ers settled for a field goal, the Panthers would have led 10-9.

Also fined, Carolina cornerback Josh Thomas was docked $7,875 for throwing a punch at San Francisco receiver Quinton Patton, and San Francisco running back Frank Gore was fined the same amount for grabbing the facemask of linebacker Thomas Davis while blocking in the second quarter.

Mitchell was not fined for hitting a defenseless defender in the first quarter, but the Panthers were penalized 15 yards for the hit. That led to San Francisco's first field goal.

Maybe all this is why Mitchell said afterwards, "I can't wait to play them [again] with a new set of refs in a new game."

Carolina DBs made 'bad penalties'

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was disappointed with what he called three "bad penalties'' in Sunday's 23-10 NFC divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

He should be. It was one of the few times this season the team lost its composure.

And it proved costly.

The first was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on safety Mike Mitchell for his late hit in the first quarter that led to a field goal. Then there was the 15-yarder against cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for a head-butt that led to another field goal.

Then with about four minutes left, corner cornerback Josh Thomas was flagged for taking a swing at receiver Quinton Patton after Carolina had stopped the 49ers on third down.

"Unfortunate,'' Rivera said during Tuesday's season-ending news conference. "Guys lost their cool and temperament, and that’s on me. We can’t get caught up in that.''

Rivera said it wasn't so much that the defensive backs were trying to prove San Francisco couldn't push them around as much as they reacted wrongly.

"Certain point where you have to get control and we didn’t,'' he said.

Panthers could have two new corners

November, 29, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite a seven-game winning streak and an 8-3 record, the Carolina Panthers are auditioning for starters at both cornerback spots heading into Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay.

Not that anybody should be surprised after the way they were burned deep in a 20-16 victory at Miami.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Friday the only members of the secondary guaranteed a starting spot are safeties Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell.

That means Captain Munnerlyn, who is only guaranteed a role as the starting nickel back, is in danger of losing his left cornerback spot and Melvin White his right corner position.

Munnerlyn was beaten by Miami receiver Mike Wallace for a 53-yard touchdown pass and a 57-yarder that resulted in a field goal in the first half. He also was beaten deep later in the game, but Wallace was overthrown.

White struggled in the 24-20 victory against New England two weeks ago and was inconsistent against the Dolphins.

“Your job is to keep it [play] in front of you and you have to,'' Rivera said after the game. "And we’re going to address that and make sure that it gets corrected. We’re going to play the guy that will do the things we ask him to do and do them the right way.”

He obviously meant it.

While Rivera didn't name starters, he spoke well of veteran Drayton Florence, who rejoined the team in Week 3 after a rash of injuries in a 24-23 loss at Buffalo.

He also was complimentary of Josh Thomas, who started five of the first six games before being replaced after getting beaten deep in a win over St. Louis.

Rivera said the more players are pushed into opportunities the more they've taken advantage of them.

"Ever since Drayton Florence has gotten back he's made a difference,'' he said.

Reading between the lines, you could see Florence at one corner spot and Thomas at the other against the Bucs.

Panthers have work to do in secondary

November, 24, 2013
MIAMI -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn't say he was going to make changes to his secondary after Sunday's 20-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins, but don't be surprised if he does.

The week after starter Josh Thomas was beaten deep on a couple of plays against the St. Louis Rams, including a 63-yard touchdown that was nullified by a penalty, the cornerback was inactive.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott also sat cornerback Josh Norman this season after he missed some plays.

After watching Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace torch cornerback Captain Munnerlyn for a 53-yard touchdown and a 57-yard catch that set up a field goal, and after watching him get behind safety Mike Mitchell near the goal line on the next-to-last-play, Rivera hinted something had to change.

Or he could make more changes.

"Getting over the top,'' Rivera said. "Your job is to keep it in front of you and you have to. And we're going to address that and make sure it gets corrected. We're going to play the guy that does things that we ask them ... to do it the right way.''

Rivera didn't mention names. It's highly unlikely he would make a change with Munnerlyn, who has been Carolina's steadiest corner all season. He has pointed to Mitchell on several occasions as the inspirational leader of the secondary, so a change there would come as a surprise.

But Rivera obviously wasn't happy, to the point he almost couldn't enjoy the win.

"It almost certainly has to be corrected,'' Rivera said. "We cannot allow those things. That's disappointing. A couple of things we're going to address and get corrected. We have to because we can't allow that. We don't give ourselves a chance to win games. We've got to play smart.''

Munnleryn, who for the past few weeks has argued Carolina's secondary that came into the season as a weak link wasn't getting respect, took responsibility for Wallace's big plays in the first half.

"It's my fault,'' he said. "I sat on his route and thought a comeback was coming, but I stuck to the route and lost him. I have a sharp memory and I'll pick my game back up.''

Mitchell didn't seem concerned that Wallace was going to catch the last deep pass and spoil Carolina's comeback.

"No way I was going to let him catch the ball,'' he said.

And no way will Rivera sit back and watch deep passes get behind his secondary.

Stay tuned.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Thomas, who started five of the first six games at left cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, is inactive for Thursday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Thomas lost his job to rookie Melvin White after allowing a 63-yard completion that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't in last week's 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Coach Ron Rivera indicated on Wednesday that White would get the start, but not that Thomas would go from starter to inactive.

"Melvin White has done a really nice job,'' Rivera said. "JT (Thomas) is struggling with it right now.''

White was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He had an interception and forced fumble in Week 3 against the New York Giants when Thomas was out with a concussion suffered against Buffalo.

Thomas, fifth on the team in tackles, had been solid against the run but susceptible in the passing game.

Also on the inactive list for Carolina: DT Dwan Edwards, DT Sione Fua, TE Brandon Williams, RB Armond Smith, WR Marvin McNutt, WR Tavarres King.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards officially were ruled out for the Carolina Panthers for Thursday night's game at Tampa Bay.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday the plan remains to take Stewart (right ankle) off the physically unable to perform list next week if he continues to show positive progress and activate him for the Nov. 3 home game against Atlanta.

Edwards will miss his fifth straight game with a hamstring injury, but Rivera is encouraged by his progress.

Quintin Mikell will start again at strong safety even though rookie Robert Lester is healthy for the second straight week. Rivera continues to review the left cornerback position, but it appears he will go with rookie Melvin White over Josh Thomas.

Thomas, whose only missed start this season was because of a concussion suffered at Buffalo in Week 2, was beaten deep on two plays in Sunday's 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

"Melvin White has done a really nice job,'' Rivera said. "JT (Thomas) is struggling with it right now.''

Wide receiver Steve Smith was on Wednesday's injury report after having his foot stepped on during a light workout, but he will play.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Left cornerback Josh Thomas missed Tuesday's practice with a flu bug, which he may or may not have caught from Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

But Thomas has bigger problems -- like keeping his starting job. Or getting it back.

The third-year player allowed a 63-yard completion that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't in Sunday's 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

The coaching staff adjusted, turning to rookie Melvin White and veteran Drayton Florence. Rivera indicated after Tuesday's practice that White might get the start in Thursday night's game at Tampa Bay.

It wouldn't be the first time a cornerback has been replaced this year after making a mistake. Josh Norman missed a call on the game-winning pass of a last-second 24-23 loss to Buffalo in Week 2. He's been on the inactive roster the last three games.

When Rivera was asked if he planned to make a change at corner earlier in the week, he simply said the players that gave the team the best chance to win would play.

As solid as Thomas has been against the run, he's been susceptible against the pass. White, a rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette, had an interception and forced a fumble earlier this year against the New York Giants.

Rivera likes playmakers.

That White worked with the first unit while Thomas dealt with his bug gives him a leg up on the job.

"We struggled a bit last week," Rivera said. "We made a movejo in the middle of the game. We inserted Drayton; we inserted Melvin. We're looking at what group we're going to insert this week and we'll go with that."

Feeling bad for Bradford: Free safety Mike Mitchell reiterated to the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday that he wasn't trying to hurt St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford when he pushed him out of bounds in the fourth quarter.

He also didn't know Bradford had suffered a season-ending ACL injury when he stood on the sidelines celebrating the play.

Mitchell told the Observer that he asked Rivera to relay that message to Bradford through Rams coach Jeff Fisher.

"I want him to know man-to-man, I try to play this game with honor," Mitchell told the newspaper. "I do try to play it hard and physical. But I do try to play it with honor. I'm not out here trying to hurt anybody.

"I'm sitting in my house and I'm going through my Twitter and so many people were saying messed-up stuff. I hope people -- the people I care about especially -- I don't want them thinking that."

Kuechly gets much-deserved respect

October, 22, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's a more detailed look at how the St. Louis Rams tried to neutralize Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on Sunday.

In case you missed it, the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was held to a career-low three tackles in Carolina's 30-15 victory. But it wasn't all about the linemen in front of him making plays.

Much of it had to do with a special scheme the Rams hadn't shown all season. It involved the linemen getting off their blocks on the defensive front quickly and going after Kuechly.

Let defensive coordinator Sean McDermott take it from here.

"What happened was they decided they weren't going to let Luke make a hundred tackles," McDermott said. "So they started going up to the second level to block Luke. Now [tackles Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Colin Cole] all have to make those plays, and they did."

Lotulelei had a career-best six tackles, two for losses. Short had three tackles, two for losses. Cole had two tackles, one for a loss.

The Rams ran the ball only 10 other times -- end Greg Hardy had four tackles on those -- so Kuechly didn't have many opportunities.

"They've got to pick their poison,'' McDermott said. "We've got tackles right now that are playing at a high level that can help us. They just made a point to go up and slip block and quick scoop to the second level and make sure Luke and Thomas [Davis] and Chase [Blackburn] aren't at the top of the stat chart as they are every week.''

Linebackers coach Al Holcomb noticed what the Rams were doing early, allowing the staff to explain to the tackles what was happening and make adjustments.

"If we're on a tandem block, or combo block, and one of us has to get to the second level to block another guy, they're going fast right now as opposed to waiting,'' McDermott explained. "They're going fast and then trying to make a one-on-one block at the first level, and that's where we were winning.''

That the Rams put so much emphasis on slowing Kuechly, who averaged 10.25 tackles a game a year ago, showed just how much they respected him.

McDermott said it's not totally unusual for teams to use that strategy.

"You saw it with the great ones,'' he said. "You guys talk to people. They're keeping an eye on Luke and I would, too.''

Kuechly didn't seem to mind, particularly since the Panthers won their second straight game and their third in four weeks to even their record at 3-3.

"All he cares about is winning,'' McDermott said. "As long as he's doing his job, which he was, that's all he cares about. He's not into stats and numbers. That's why he's such a joy to be around.''

Tipped: McDermott said safety Quintin Mikell tipped Sam Bradford's pass on the first play from scrimmage in Sunday's game, making it an easy interception for cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Munnerlyn returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, his fourth in five seasons.

Topped: McDermott and head coach Ron Rivera didn't want to put all the blame on cornerback Josh Thomas for two long completions, a 63-yarder that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't.

But clearly Thomas was at fault on the second one, and his susceptibility in pass protection makes one wonder if his playing time will be impacted moving forward.

Rivera simply said the best players will play.

Tapped: Rivera's forehead was dripping with sweat when he arrived for his postgame interview on Sunday, but not because of the temperature at Bank of America Stadium or the intensity from a game that had five personal fouls.

Rivera had the flu.

He's feeling much better after the win, though.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers starting cornerback Josh Thomas practically begged doctors to let him play against the New York Giants nine days ago.

He told them he felt fine, that there were no side effects from the concussion he suffered a week earlier against Buffalo.

When Dr. Jerry Petty said no, Thomas was disappointed.

"Very, very surprised," he said Monday.

And thankful.

As down as Thomas was that he couldn't be a part of the 38-0 victory that coach Ron Rivera hopes is a catalyst for more wins, he's glad the league is taking such a hard stance on concussions to protect the long-term health of the players.

He's fortunate there are doctors thinking about him instead of what the coaches might want.

That the league reached a $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries after more than 4,500 former NFL players filed suit has heightened awareness.

Thomas definitely paid attention.

"I mean, everything is for a good cause," Thomas said. "I understand the volume of what having a concussion is like. I don't take it lightly, and the NFL isn't taking it lightly. That's what you like the most, that they're taking the best interest for the players and not just themselves nowadays."

Thomas has been cleared to play this week against the Arizona Cardinals. He got it shortly after the Giants game.

Now he's back working with the first team after relative unknowns such as cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester stepped up while Thomas and others were spectators.

Carolina (1-2) has gone from searching for enough players to fill the secondary to figuring out who might have to sit against the Cardinals (2-2) as safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) and defensive back D.J. Moore (knee) also are expected back.

"It's going to be an interesting week for us," Rivera said.

But it's a nice problem to have. And having players as selfless as Thomas has to make it a nicer problem.

"Because it's not about me," Thomas said. "It's about that 'W' we got in the last game."

The game may not have been about Thomas, but the decision to hold him out was all about Thomas. It wasn't that long ago that he would have been put back on the field without regard to his health.

"This game is built on entertainment and also safety," Thomas said. "You want to play the game the most safe way possible."

Stewart looks fast in PUP list comeback

September, 30, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More than a few people noticed when Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ran at close to full speed down the sideline during Monday's practice.

It was the first time the former first-round pick out of Oregon tested his ankles like that since undergoing offseason surgery.

"And that was exciting,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

Said Stewart, who has struggled in particular with rehabbing the right ankle, "As good as it's felt in a while.''

So could Stewart be ready to come off the physically unable to perform list in two weeks and be ready for the Oct. 20 home game against the St. Louis Rams? Neither Stewart nor Rivera wanted to get too far ahead of themselves, but Monday's workout was encouraging.

"I'm on the coaching side,'' Rivera said. "We get excited about things. [Head trainer] Ryan Vermillion and his people, they've got to be realistic about it.

"But it was really nice to see him go full ... I shouldn't say full speed, but really open up.''

A healthy Stewart would open up a Carolina offense that already ranks third in the NFL in rushing with DeAngelo Williams carrying the bulk of the load (291 yards).

A healthy Stewart could mean a return to the days when Williams and Stewart were nicknamed "Double Trouble.''

Rivera said there have been times already this season where Williams could have used a break on long drives. He also reminded that "everything is eyeing to the postseason,'' so the Panthers (1-2) don't necessarily have to rush Stewart back. A more realistic chance of seeing Stewart might be in Week 8 or 9.

On target to return this week against Arizona is another former Oregon running back, Kenjon Barner, who has been out since suffering an ankle injury in the preseason finale.

Barner definitely will be used to spell Williams and give Carolina a different look with his breakaway speed.

"He's a very diverse football player,'' Rivera said of this year's sixth-round pick. "He has the ability to run the football and catch it, and he's learned how to pass protect. A lot of [how he's used] has to do with play calling and the flow.''

Not good enough: Much of the attention before a 38-0 victory over the New York Giants was on how well Carolina practiced after an 0-2 start.

Monday's first workout after the bye weekend wasn't that good.

"Practice was good, but it wasn't good enough, and I let them know that at the end,'' Rivera said. "They did some really good things, but as we talked about, to win football games we've got to practice the whole way.''

That may be especially true coming into a game against a 2-2 Arizona team that had to rally to beat winless Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"We've just got to make sure everybody is on the same page, everybody is pushing, because we have a chance to build momentum coming off a win,'' Rivera said.

Injury updates: Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) has been cleared to play this week after being held out against New York. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), who also missed the Giants game, were not in pads on Monday and did not practice in full. They will be evaluated again on Wednesday.

Panthers move up during bye week

September, 30, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A member of the Carolina Panthers staff joked last week that he'd never heard an NFL head coach say it was a bad time to have a bye week.

Sure enough, coach Ron Rivera said Week 4 was a good time for the Panthers (1-2) to have a bye.

Here are four reasons why:

You can't lose: Not to be a smart aleck, but when you don't play you can't lose. The Panthers actually moved into sole possession of second place in the NFC South thanks to losses by Atlanta (1-3) to New England and Tampa Bay (0-4) to Arizona. A loss by the New Orleans Saints (3-0) against Miami (3-0) on Monday night and they could close the gap on first.

But they did lose ground in that only five NFC teams had a better record going into Week 4 and seven do now.

Time to heal: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards got another week to heal a thigh injury that sidelined him for Week 3. The Panthers need Edwards to maintain the solid rotation they want on the line. It also basically gave linebacker Jon Beason, who seems to be missing a step since returning from offseason knee surgery, a two-week break. He was in for only one play against the New York Giants. Cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) also should be back this week.

Evaluation: The early break gives the coaching staff a week to break down everything that they've done right and wrong, and correct those things before they get too deep into the season.

Head start: Not that Arizona is lighting it up at 2-2, but the break gives the Panthers an extra week to prepare for the Cardinals. The only way the 38-0 victory over the Giants means anything is to follow it up with another victory. That didn't happen a year ago when Carolina lost five straight after improving to 1-1.

W2W4: Giants at Panthers

September, 21, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Either the Carolina Panthers or New York Giants will win for the first time this season in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Bank of America Stadium.

Unless they play to a rare tie, that is.

Here are three keys for the Panthers:

Licking his chops: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has to be salivating over what he'll see in Carolina's secondary. There will be rookie Robert Lester starting at strong safety. Mike Mitchell is playing a new position, moving from strong safety to free. Left cornerback Josh Thomas is out after suffering a concussion in Week 2, and his backup, Josh Norman, has a deep thigh bruise. Veteran Drayton Florence is back from what he calls a "two-week vacation'' after being cut. This unit was suspect even before the injuries, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.2 percent of their passes. That the Giants' passing game ranks No. 1 in the NFL makes this even more of a mismatch. But maybe this will be a reverse of last season, when New York came to town with key injuries at wide receiver and running back and posted a 36-7 victory. "If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said.

Now or never for Newton: If Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton wants to prove he's a true leader, this is his opportunity. An 0-3 start would make him truly the "Forgotten 1,'' as the ESPN the Magazine headline suggested. But in order to take charge, offensive coordinator Mike Shula may have to turn Newton loose. So far in Shula's more-traditional attack, Newton has rushed only nine times for 53 yards. He's passed for only 354 yards. Twenty-seven quarterbacks in the league have thrown for more. The Giants haven't done much in terms of pressuring the quarterback or stopping the pass, so perhaps this is Newton's opportunity.

Playmakers make plays: That's the challenge by Carolina coach Ron Rivera. So far, Carolina has 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Opponents have eight. Carolina has three sacks, none from Greg Hardy, who suggested 50 was his goal this season. Opponents have seven, with Buffalo's Mario Williams collecting 4.5 last week. As mentioned above, Newton has passed for 354 yards; his counterparts have passed for 607. I could go on, but you get Rivera's points. Carolina's stars have to start starring to get this team over the hump.

Panthers: Thomas out; Edwards in doubt

September, 20, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers will be without starting cornerback Josh Thomas and possibly starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on Sunday against the New York Giants.

That's not good news for an 0-2 team that will face quarterback Eli Manning and the league's top passing game.

Team officials said on Friday that Thomas was not cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss at Buffalo. Thomas practiced on Thursday and Friday and, according to coach Ron Rivera, passed all the necessary team tests.

But as Thomas wrote on Twitter:

Edwards missed his third straight day of practice on Friday with a thigh injury.

"Not looking good," said Rivera, adding a decision on Edwards' status will be made on Saturday.

If Edwards can't play, Colin Cole will start beside rookie Star Lotulelei.

Rivera left it open that either veteran Drayton Florence or Josh Norman would start on the left side for Thomas. Florence was signed on Wednesday night after being among the final cuts in the preseason.

Norman has been fighting through a deep thigh bruise and sprained knee.

Safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), corner D.J. Moore (foot) and running back Kenjon Barner (foot) already have been ruled out. Backup corner James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) will be a game-time decision.