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Panthers noticeably more loose heading into playoffs this time

1/1/2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Derek Anderson was on a karaoke machine, chanting the Florida State "war chant" and doing the tomahawk chop to make it clear the former Oregon State star wouldn’t be cheering for rival Oregon in the college football playoffs.

Rookie wide receiver Philly Brown was calling out Alabama, saying the Crimson Tide set to face his Ohio State team was overrated. Tight end Brandon Williams was in his green Oregon letterman’s jacket, predicting a big victory against FSU.

Then to top it all, kicker Graham Gano, quarterback Cam Newton and fullback Richie Brockel were conspiring to send a message on punter Brad Nortman's hacked Twitter account to make it appear the former Wisconsin player was pulling for Auburn.

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Yes, the Carolina Panthers locker room was loose two days before Saturday’s NFC wild card game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium.

It was noticeably different than before the Panthers lost to San Francisco 23-10 in last year’s NFC divisional game.

"It is noticeable," coach Ron Rivera said on Thursday. "It’s funny. You worry about those things. You worry about being too loose, you worry about being too tight.

"But I think right now they’re in a really good place."

Rivera wasn’t so sure on Wednesday. He jumped on players after practice, believing their focus wasn’t totally on the game plan because of their antics between drills.

He was so concerned that he went back and looked at the tape.

Then he realized he was wrong.

"The tape was really good," Rivera said. "I got on them a little bit about it, but after I watched tape I realized it was about business. When they were on the field they were doing exactly what they needed to do. They were paying attention and doing things the right way.

"Then they would get off to the side and they’re kind of relaxed, which is great."

The Panthers (7-8-1) should be loose. They’re playing with house money, as even Rivera admitted, after winning their last four games to win the down NFC South and get into the playoffs.

"That’s what’s gotten them to where they are," Rivera said of being loose. "We’re where nobody expected us."

Rivera said Thursday’s practice was one of the more business-like of the season.

"But again, once they got to the sideline they were having fun and letting their personalities show,' he said. "They are loose right now. They seem to be focused. When it’s time to be, they’re business-like when they need to be, and that’s a huge plus."

An example -- on one of the last plays of practice the defense made a mistake. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis gathered everyone after practice and made them run the play again.

"That’s what I’m talking about in terms of the business-like attitude right now," Rivera said. "Hey, we're going to have fun, we’re going to be loose.

"But when it’s time to get between those white lines we’re going to be focused and try to reflect that business-like attitude we need."