NFL Nation: Cam Newton
Newton suffered a hairline fracture in his rib during Friday night's 30-7 preseason loss at New England. He will not play in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh.
"I saw him throw a couple of balls, I saw him catch a couple of balls, I saw him bend over and pick up [a couple of balls], so I imagine it is lessening," Rivera said of Newton's pain.
"This is exactly what the doctor told us. It's just a matter of time. Get the stiffness out, the soreness out, and he'll be all right."
Among the quarterbacks who have played with fractured ribs are Dallas' Tony Romo, New England's Tom Brady and Michael Vick of the New York Jets.
While Newton has been held out of practice this week, he has been on the field going through the mental reps with players and coaches.
Asked if he had no doubt Newton would be ready for the Buccaneers, Rivera said, "I'm pretty confident. The true evaluation will come in about a week, so we'll probably be looking at this Saturday for where he is and how he is."
Barring an unexpected delay, the Carolina Panthers will have two quarterbacks available for Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.
"Tonight's the magic night," Anderson said.
With fourth-stringer Matt Blanchard placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in Friday night's loss at New England, the Panthers were down to two healthy quarterbacks in Anderson and Joe Webb.
Meanwhile, Newton continues to work with trainer Ryan Vermillion as part of his rehab from the rib injury that occurred in the second quarter against New England.
While he still looks stiff at times, Newton is beginning to make more moves with his upper body without signs of pain. At one point while observing a quarterback drill, he reached up slightly behind his body to effortlessly snag a throw with his right hand.
There is no indication Newton won't start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay. While he isn't practicing, he was a part of preparing for the Bucs on Sunday and Monday.
"He's with the coordinator, he's with the quarterback coach and they're talking about what we're looking at and why we're looking at it," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "So Cam's getting a feel for Tampa Bay right now."
Newton suffered a hairline fracture in a rib during the second quarter of Friday night's exhibition loss at New England. He will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh, but he is attending every meeting and watching every snap at practice.
"Very, very," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "He's with the coordinator, he's with the quarterback coach and they're talking about what we're looking at and why we're looking at it.
"So Cam's getting a feel for Tampa Bay right now."
Rivera said he hasn't gotten an update on how much Newton's condition has improved in the last 24 hours, but the first pick of the 2011 draft did seem less stiff when walking.
As Newton left the practice field, rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin playfully nudged him in the shoulder a couple of times. Newton responded by raising his arms and playfully shoving Benjamin back.
Rivera said treatment hasn't gotten in the way of Newton being a part of all planning involving the Bucs.
"We're working around him," said Rivera, who closed practices to the media when preparing for the Bucs began. "We're focusing him on Tampa in terms of our preparation."
Rivera said there aren't two different game plans in case Newton can't play against Tampa Bay and backup Derek Anderson has to start.
"We're putting a regular game plan together," he said. "The big thing is everything we put in our game plan Derek is able to do. We don't have two separate sheets. We have one plan."
But Rivera is having to make adjustments for what little game plan there will be for Pittsburgh. With Anderson's wife expecting their first child at any time and fourth-string quarterback Matt Blanchard out with a concussion, there's a chance third-stringer Joe Webb is the only quarterback.
As a precaution, Rivera said a couple of non-quarterbacks are being prepped to play quarterback if Anderson is with his wife and Webb gets hurt. He would not identify them.
Otherwise, Rivera said the plan is to play the healthy starters for about a quarter.
Starters not expected to play against Pittsburgh include Newton, right guard Trai Turner (groin), defensive ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring).
A decision has not been made on tight end Greg Olsen, whose son successfully underwent open heart surgery on Monday.
All are expected to be ready for Tampa Bay.
Olsen's son, T.J., was scheduled to undergo open heart surgery on Monday for the third time after being born in 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Olsen was scheduled to be away from the team "until things kind of settle down'' to be with his family.
Here's what he wrote on Twitter:
The team showed its support of Olsen, huddling to pray for his son and family after Sunday's practice. "Any time you're dealing with open heart surgery on a child, it's pretty delicate and scary in itself," Olsen told reporters. "We're unfortunately getting used to this. It's the hand he was dealt, it's the hand we were dealt, and we'll take it on like we have the last two and just hope for as fast a recovery as he can.''
Ill be taking a short break from the team as we prepare for r sons next open heart surgery 2morrow. Ill be back to work as soon as possible— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) August 25, 2014
TJ is out of surgery and being brought to ICU shortly. Were very anxious to go see him. Thanks everyone for all the prayers and well wishes— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) August 25, 2014
As for the Carolina offense, Olsen believes it will recover from Friday night's 30-7 exhibition loss in which quarterback Cam Newton suffered a hairline fracture to a rib in the second quarter. Newton will miss Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh and his status for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay remains unclear.
Olsen isn't worried his time away will be an issue. He said many of the problems that limited Carolina to 94 yards and no points in the first half when the starters -- minus a few injured players -- played the entire way were addressed on Sunday.
"The world's not coming to an end,'' said Olsen, who led Carolina in receptions last season with 73. "That's the biggest thing, we need to understand that game doesn't matter. It's going to have zero impact on the Tampa game. That's where all of our efforts are towards.''
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is correct to be optimistic about having Cam Newton available for Week 1, but that doesn't mean the quarterback won't be affected by his rib injury.
Newton will not play in Thursday's preseason finale at Pittsburgh, but Rivera is hopeful the first pick of the 2011 draft will be ready for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay.
ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell had this to say: "Rib injuries make it painful to move in any direction, twist, turn, reach, even take a deep breath. Even if pain gets manageable by Week 1, it could still hurt to throw hard [twisting rib cage, tug of abdominal muscles], run hard [the impact as well as breathing].
"If running and throwing aren't painful, it's still possible contact could aggravate. Much will be determined based on how he responds over next handful of days."
If you need an example of a quarterback who has played through the pain, look no further than Dallas' Tony Romo. He suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung against San Francisco in Week 2 of the 2011 season.
He played the following week against Washington and led the Cowboys to an 18-16 Monday night victory, completing 22 of 36 pass attempts for 255 yards.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's time for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to learn how to slide.
If that means hiring a base-running coach from Charlotte's Triple-A baseball team or holding daily practice sessions on a slip-n-side at Bank of America Stadium, the first pick of the 2011 draft needs to put his ego aside and be smart.
Newton didn't slide in Friday night's exhibition loss at New England and he's now questionable for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay with a hairline fracture to a rib.
Had he gone to the ground feet first instead of diving at the end of a 7-yard scramble in the second quarter of a meaningless game, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins wouldn't have stepped on his back and coach Ron Rivera wouldn't be making alternative plans for Thursday's exhibition finale.
And maybe longer.
"Very frustrating," Rivera said on Sunday when breaking the news of his quarterback's injury. "The unfortunate part is he had a chance to make a play on it. He chose to tuck it and run. One thing he's going to have to learn is either dump it or learn how to slide."
This isn't the first time Rivera has said this.
It likely won't be the last.
He was at least equal in stature to Collins, who is 6-3, 250.
"I'm not a sliding type of guy," Newton said last Thursday when asked if he needs to slide more, at the time addressing whether to protect his surgically repaired left ankle. "I get down the best way I know how. I really wasn't good at baseball."
He won't be good at football if he doesn't do a better job of protecting himself. The best way to do that is slide, because the defender has to lay off.
Dive, and defensive players' eyes get big and they start to drool.
It's open season on quarterbacks.
"A lot of concerns," Rivera said. "Every time he runs there are concerns. ... He's competitive by nature. Competitive people, who are truly competitive, always try to do the hard thing. Cam will never try to do the easy thing, and that's to side that way."
This wasn't Rivera on Sunday. This was Rivera after a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay last season when Newton dove awkwardly forward several times for extra yards.
"We've tried everything with him," Rivera said after that game. "He knows that if he slides the ball reverts to where he first touches the ground, but if he goes forward it's [progress] until he stops. Again, it's his competitive nature."
But Newton can't compete when he's not on the field. The hairline fracture will keep him out of Thursday night's exhibition finale against Pittsburgh in which Rivera had hoped his quarterback could fine tune the timing with his new receivers.
Because he didn't slide, Newton loses that and another week of practice with Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Because he didn't slide, his throwing motion could be impacted in the opener if he plays.
Because he didn't slide, he may not be able to play.
It has left Rivera feeling the same frustration that Washington coach Jay Gruden had on Monday night after quarterback Robert Griffin III kept taking big hits against Cleveland.
This time for Newton it's a fractured rib. The next time it could be a concussion.
There's no doubt the Panthers are better offensively when Newton runs. He has more rushing yards (2,032) and rushing touchdowns (28) than any quarterback in the NFL the past three seasons.
There's also no doubt the Panthers are better when Newton is on the field.
He will be a lot less if he doesn't learn to slide.
Here are three things to watch for:
1. Timing: It was obvious that quarterback Cam Newton needs more time working with his new receivers after he made his preseason debut in Sunday night's 28-16 victory over Kansas City. He started 1-for-5, missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open down the left sideline at one point. The Panthers have increased Newton's reps in practice, but as coach Ron Rivera acknowledged, you can't simulate game speed. Newton will play the first half. It will be his last significant tune-up for the regular season with starters expected to play sparingly -- if at all -- in the final preseason game. He has shown chemistry with Benjamin and his other receivers in practice, but now needs to do that in a game. The Patriots should be a good test. They had two forced fumbles and two interceptions that they turned into 21 points in last week's 42-35 exhibition win over Philadelphia.
2. Time to step up: The Panthers signed free agent wide receiver Tiquan Underwood to a two-year deal after losing their top four receivers from 2013. You don't do that unless you expect him to make the roster. As of now he's on the outside looking in. The top three are Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. If the season started today, because of his return duties, undrafted rookie Philly Brown would be the fourth. Brenton Bersin would be the fifth in the team activated five. Odds are Carolina won't keep more than six receivers on their 53-man roster. Rivera continues to harp that he wants to see one or two outside the top three step up. Underwood is one of those because of his elite speed, something the top three don't have and another reason Brown's stock has risen. That the opponent is New England is a bit ironic because the Patriots released him the night before their Super Bowl loss to the Giants during the 2011 season. Rivera is going to give the young receivers more opportunities. If Underwood doesn't step up, he could be in danger of being cut for the ninth time in his career.
3. Time to start fast: The Carolina defense has started slowly in each of the first two preseason games, giving up big chunks of yardage early. The Panthers were outgained 114-1 at one point during the first quarter, but to their credit gave up only a pair of field goals. Many of those yards were surrendered due to mistakes or communication breakdowns in the secondary. Some of that has to do with a new group of defensive backs learning each other. Melvin White and Antoine Cason appear to have nailed down the starting corner jobs, and Charles Godfrey appears set as the nickelback in his transition from safety. But starting strong safety Roman Harper (turf toe) has yet to play in a preseason game and won't again tonight, leaving unheralded Anderson Russell and Robert Lester fighting for the backup job. Free safety Thomas DeCoud is in his first season with Carolina, so he's still adjusting to the system. Facing Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady should give this group a good idea of where they are.
1. Quick rise: Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu made quite an impression on #NFLRank voters during his injury-shortened rookie season. After 11 NFL starts, and while still recovering from a major knee injury, Mathieu ranks as the No. 58 defensive player and eighth among safeties. Mathieu certainly spent plenty of time around the ball last season, totaling 68 tackles, two interceptions and nine defensed passes in 751 snaps. Without the injury, he would be an obvious Pro Bowl candidate for 2014. With it, the most reasonable hope is that he will return to his 2013 form by the end of the season. First impressions are important, however, and Mathieu made a great one.
2. Newton vs. Ryan: Who would you pick as your quarterback? The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton or the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan? By a small three-spot margin, #NFLRank voters chose Newton. There is no doubt that Newton is younger (by four years) and has a more diverse skill set. But as quarterbacks age, their success depends more on pocket passing. Newton's running ability has added 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns to the Panthers' offense over the past three seasons, but his production on the ground has decreased each year and it's difficult to imagine it as a substantial portion of his game five years from now. That brings the debate between him and Ryan to passing. Ryan has always been a more efficient passer than Newton, and his career Total Quarterback Rating (68.4) is substantially better than Newton's (55.5) even though it includes rushing yards. With all due respect to voters, Newton isn't a sure bet over Ryan in 2014, let alone in the long-term.
3. Pity the guards: Here we are, just halfway through the #NFLRank reveal, and already the No. 3 and No. 4 guards are off the boards. That's right. Of the top 50 offensive players named in this project, only two are guards. You will have to wait for their names, but we do know that the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Iupati is at No. 53 and the Philadelphia Eagles' Evan Mathis is No. 59. Alex Boone, Iupati's fellow guard with the 49ers and a contract holdout, isn't among the top 100. Guards are increasingly more important in an era of quick passes and short(er) quarterbacks, and five were selected in the first rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts. But it will take a while for that transition to make its way to the general public.
They have won three Super Bowls and been to six between 2001 and the present.
The Carolina Panthers haven't had consecutive winning seasons since they began playing in 1995.
"We could be a year away," Rivera said as the Panthers prepared for Friday's preseason game at New England. "If we can come back, have a good year, do some things that haven't been done before, we can set ourselves up as we continue to move forward with a group of young men.
"We're on the cusp, and this year will tell a lot for the direction we are headed."
He's right in that this season will say a lot in regards to where the Panthers are heading. Quarterback Cam Newton isn't Tom Brady, but he is a player a team can build around as New England has with the nine-time Pro Bowl selection.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, gives Carolina a strong nucleus on the other side of the ball.
There is a foundation.
But the Panthers are far from being in New England's stratosphere. So is every other team in the NFL, for that matter.
That's why the Patriots are the measuring stick for most of the league. They certainly are for Rivera.
"You think about coach [Bill] Belichick and Tom Brady and their consistency," Rivera said. "I've always used them as a measuring stick and I've always compared to what we want to do to defensively to what they do offensively.
"Now as a team, you want to compare the whole team."
The Patriots were a big measuring stick for the Panthers last season. A 24-20 victory over New England on "Monday Night Football" following a win at San Francisco showed Carolina was a playoff contender.
It showed that Newton was a bona fide rising star after he successfully directed the game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes against a Super Bowl-caliber team.
"It sent a great message to the rest of the team, we are most certainly relevant because we beat one of the elite teams,'' Rivera said.
New England also was a measuring stick for Carolina in the 2003 season when they met in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won 32-29 on a last-second field goal, giving the Carolina organization hope it was close to championship form.
It didn't happen. The Panthers went 7-9 the following season while New England went on to a second straight Super Bowl victory.
Tonight's third exhibition game won't have the ramifications of a Super Bowl, but it again will be a measuring stick. The Patriots are among the favorites to win another title. The Panthers are predicted to take a hard fall from last season's 12-4 record.
So while it is starters versus starters for the first half, despite little game-planning by either side, it will give Rivera a hint of where the Panthers are in terms of sustaining success.
It will be another opportunity for Newton to prove he can win with a new group of wide receivers just as Brady has. It will be another opportunity for the defense, ranked second in the league a year ago, to prove it remains championship caliber.
It may just be an exhibition game, but because it's New England it will hold a little more significance than others.
"What I mean by a year away, this year will tell,'' Rivera said as he continued to explain why he believes the Panthers are close to becoming a New England-type team. "If we go out and do the things we're capable of, play to our abilities and do some things that haven't been done before in this division and for this team, then I think we're where we want to be.''
Ratliffe, a senior quarterback at Laurinburg (N.C.) Scotland High School, recently had brain surgery after suffering a fractured skull in a July 30 ATV accident.
Newton visited the player, who has committed to Georgia Tech, on Tuesday.
"I didn't know what to expect walking into the room,'' Newton said following Thursday's practice. "And whether he knows it or not, his day brightened my day with me seeing him and seeing his attitude.''
Ratliffe's football future is uncertain, although Georgia Tech announced it plans to honor the scholarship commitment. He was put into a medically induced coma to reduce swelling in the brain and was on a ventilator for a week.
"For him to have gone through everything he has gone through, my talk to him was if you can make it through this, the sky's the limit,'' Newton said. "He's motivated me to not complain, not to bicker, not to take anything for granted. But accept each and every day and make the most of it.''
Newton spent about an hour with Ratliffe. Scotland coach Richard Bailey told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the visit "really seemed to bolster his spirits.''
Newton did this while preparing for Friday night's exhibition game at New England and continuing twice-a-day treatment on his left ankle that was surgically repaired in March.
"It's not the first time,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said of Newton taking time out of his hectic schedule for such a visit. "It's funny, because a lot of people reach out to him for things like that. When he has the time, when he's available, he'll do it. It's true for a lot of our guys and it's true for a lot of guys in the league.''
"In an interesting way, this might have been the best thing to happen to him in terms of his pure quarterbacking development," Rivera said following Thursday's practice. "He's had to stay in the pocket. He's had to have good footwork. He's had to step into his throws."
In other words, Newton has had to rely on his arm and the mental aspects of his game more so than his legs, which have made him such a dual threat.
Rivera used former NBA star Michael Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, as an example.
"Michael Jordan used to go to the hole all the time and dunk, make spectacular layups and stuff like that," Rivera said. "But if you ask Michael, he learned that later in his career he had to develop that jumper. So he went to work at it.
"Cam's the same way. He knows he's got to develop as a passer."
But for now Newton's legs remain a weapon. And in the mind of Rivera, the left ankle that was surgically repaired in March is 100 percent.
"He's really close, and I think he thinks he's really close," Rivera said as he looked ahead to Friday night's exhibition at New England. "But when he all of a sudden cuts it loose and let's it go, that'll be enough to convince me."
The Panthers have kept Newton on a tight leash when it comes to scrambling and running the read option during training camp. But when the first pick of the 2011 draft spun out of trouble under pressure in Sunday's 28-16 victory against Kansas City, Rivera took that as a positive sign.
Does that mean Rivera is ready to turn Newton loose against the Patriots? Not entirely. He will still yell at his franchise quarterback to go down if Newton scrambles.
But Rivera won't complain if Newton takes off for a positive gain, understanding the positive psychological impact that could have.
"He has to do what he has to do to protect himself," said Rivera, who plans to play Newton in the first half. "He has to do what he has to do to make plays. If he runs, it's a great sign and I'm fine with that."
Just don't expect Newton to slide to protect himself.
"I'm not a sliding type of guy," Newton said. "I get down the best way I know how. I really wasn't good at baseball."
Newton scrambled three times in Sunday night's 28-16 victory against Kansas City, the first time he's faced an opponent since undergoing surgery on his left ankle in March.
"But that's him, that's who he is," Rivera said after Tuesday's practice. "He wants to compete and he wants to make something happen. It's his natural instincts. Throwing the ball away goes against everything that is ingrained in him in terms of being a competitor."
That aside, Rivera said there's nothing at the moment to keep Newton from playing at least the first half against the Patriots.
"No, unless we're absolutely awful and they're killing us," Rivera said. "I don't expect that to happen. I expect us to go out and be competitive with those guys and do our jobs.
"As the game goes and progresses, we'll decide how much longer we want to keep him in."
Newton started 1-for-5 passing for 5 yards against Kansas City, then completed three of his final four attempts for 60 yards to help Carolina to a 14-6 halftime lead.
"Truthfully, he was in for one more drive than I really wanted him to be," Rivera said. "But he was feeling good. The trainers felt confident about the ankle. The offensive line was playing well and he'd just come off the touchdown drive.
"I figured, 'What the heck, we'll give him one more.' Then when I told him he was done we got into an argument because he wanted to do the two-minute drill. I said, 'No, enough is enough.'"
Rivera's plan against the Chiefs was to treat it like the third preseason game when coaches normally play their starters for three quarters. His reasoning was the team has a short week to prepare for New England, and the bodies may not have recovered enough for maximum effort.
He and the staff haven't come up with a game plan for New England yet. But because Newton needs more repetitions in game situations to improve the timing with an entire new group of wide receivers, that will be a factor.
"We've increased his practice reps so he gets those reps," Rivera said. "We'll see how it is. But you can't simulate game speed."
Newton has done at least one thing to make Rivera happy. He showed for both sessions of treatments on Monday as he has throughout the rehabilitation process even though there were no ill effects from the game.
"I'm pretty fired up that he's doing the things he needs to do." Rivera said.
The ankle is fine.
Newton showed that by scrambling -- maybe a few more times than he or coach Ron Rivera wanted him to -- during Sunday night's 28-16 preseason victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
When asked if the return of a healthy Jonathan Stewart to the ground game might make it less necessary for him to use his legs this season, the fourth-year quarterback went into a humorous dissertation about all of his job qualifications.
"Man, I am trying to win football games,'' said Newton, who has rushed for more yards (2,032) and touchdowns (28) than any NFL quarterback the past three seasons.
"If that is saying, 'Cam, do quarterback sneak every play; Cam, hand the ball off; [Cam], run 20 yards down field like a chicken with his head cut off'; Cam, drop back and throw the ball out of bounds; Cam, go block; Cam, go get somebody water; Cam, ask questions like a reporter; Cam, film the game' ... whatever is asked of me to do, I'm trying to do whatever it takes to win the football game.''
Newton didn't say it, but he's tired of being asked about his ankle and how much he will run this season. He answered that emphatically during the first half of his first live action since his March surgery, spinning and scrambling like he has done his entire career.
He didn't force the issue to the point he tried to run for a first down. He admittedly scrambled too much on one play.
But that was a positive because he walked away without pain.
"Just regaining confidence I had in my ankle,'' Newton said. "I know I had surgery. Everyone knows I had surgery. It’s a constant buildup. I haven’t pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do.
"It was kind of like a shock at first. But after I didn't feel pain .... It's one thing where you’ve got to tell your mind that you’re not hurt.''
It's another to test it and realize you're going to be able to do all the things you did before. Now Newton can focus on regaining the consistency that helped elevate him to a status just under the elite quarterbacks last season.
"Right now, I'm at a point where it can't be flashes no more,'' he said. "It has to be an every-down mentality to move the ball forward.''
That means not missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin when he's wide open down the left sideline as Newton did on the third of his five series. Newton called that and his slow start "unacceptable.''
The slow start, at least, shouldn't have come as a surprise. Newton had been held back like a kid not allowed to participate in recess since the surgery. He was anxious -- maybe too anxious.
When he's anxious, he often overthrows receivers.
That he was working with a rebuilt offensive line and a new group of receivers added to the anxiousness.
"He just came to me [before the game] and said, 'I'm a little revved up,' '' Benjamin said. "We were expecting him to be revved up.''
But Newton settled down. After starting 1-for-5 passing for 5 yards, he completed three of his next four passes for 60 yards. He didn't throw an interception, although one telegraphed pass should have been.
And he didn't reinjure the ankle.
"Once he settled in and started to move you saw him gain confidence and he made plays,'' Rivera said.
Rivera thought of pulling Newton after the fourth series. He admittedly was nervous watching Newton spinning out of trouble.
"We’re always concerned about him because that’s who he is,'' Rivera said. "He wants to win and will do what he can to win and will worry about it later.''
And that's ultimately what makes Newton so valuable.
"Play like a Raven, Baltimore Ravens, we build bullies," Carolina's all-time leading receiver told CSNBaltimore.com.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera doesn't want to build bullies.
Rivera says one reason the Panthers lost last season's NFC divisional playoff game 23-10 to San Francisco was because they lost their composure, drawing three personal foul penalties for basically bullying the 49ers.
So on Sunday night when Rivera saw first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin flip the ball at Kansas City's Chris Owens and subsequently draw a 15-yard penalty for head-butting the cornerback on the sideline, he stepped in for a lengthy lecture with the player that has replaced Smith as the No. 1 receiver.
"What we want guys to understand is that we have to maintain our composure on the football field," Rivera said. "That’s why we lost in the playoffs. It started with me. I made the mistake of getting caught up in that emotion. We have to learn how to control that."
Rivera was more proactive when Carolina cornerback Josh Norman got into a jawing match with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in the second quarter of the 28-16 victory. The fourth-year Carolina coach immediately pulled Norman from the game even though he hadn't drawn a penalty.
Linebacker Thomas Davis helped drive home Rivera's message. As Bowe and Norman got into each other's faces, he got between them and pushed Norman away.
"If we’re going to be a playoff team, we’ve got to do those things the right way and we’ve got to be able to handle it," Rivera said. "When we see it, we pull guys to the side and try to get that corrected. We’re not going to play that way. We’re going to play smart football."
Rivera seemed more upset with Norman than he was with Benjamin because Norman has been around longer and should know better.
Benjamin is a rookie playing in his second preseason game. He hasn't had a history, at least in practice, of bullying defensive backs.
Rivera doesn't want it to become a habit as it was with Smith, who was released in March in part because some of his bullying -- with the opposition and teammates -- was a distraction to the team.
"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen, a guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game," Rivera said. "I told him that when they start doing that it’s because they know you can do some good things. You’ll learn how to handle it and learn how to be graceful about it and keep going forward."
Benjamin admitted he made a mistake and let Owens bate him into losing his cool by "talking, just being a defensive player."
But Rivera also understand there's a time when a player has to "stand up for yourself"' if another player is trying to intimidate you.
"There’s a point where you have to draw a line and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this, then I’m going to draw a line in the sand," he said. "I told [Benjamin] that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."
Benjamin made a couple of nice plays, catching a 24-yard pass from starting quarterback Cam Newton over the middle to start Carolina's second scoring drive and a 17-yarder over the middle from backup Derek Anderson.
Both were in traffic. Both showed he can make the physical catch.
His 15-yard penalty took Carolina out of field goal range late in the half.
"That's something I've got to learn from," he said.
Norman made some nice, physical plays as well as he fights to remain among the top three cornerbacks. Although he seemingly didn't see anything wrong with the jawing that got him yanked -- "What do you want us to be out there, little puppets?" -- he understands the importance of control.
Rivera wants control. He wants his team to play smart.
He doesn't want to build bullies.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers for most of the first quarter of Sunday night's 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs looked like the team many predict will take a big fall in 2014.
And then they didn't.
With quarterback Cam Newton finally getting into a rhythm in his first preseason game since undergoing left ankle surgery in March, the Panthers went into halftime with a 14-6 lead after both teams played their first string.
Newton didn't do anything spectacular and missed rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open early down the left sideline. But the ankle held up as he scrambled three times, and he completed three of his final four pass attempts for 60 yards.
Overall, it was a positive first step. Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers’ second preseason game of the year:
- A few more thoughts on Newton, who finished 4-of-9 for 65 yards. It had to be a confidence-builder for him and the coaching staff that he spun out of trouble under a heavy rush before going down. If this was a regular-season game, he might have turned one or two into positive yards. The ankle looks good to go.
- As much as Newton's return was anticipated, the return of running back Jonathan Stewart also spoke volumes. Stewart has been hampered by ankle injuries the past two seasons, and he entered training camp with a hamstring injury. But he looked stronger and more fluid than ever in rushing for touchdowns of 2 and 3 yards, his first time in the end zone since late in the 2012 season. His presence as an inside threat brings back visions of 2009, when he and DeAngelo Williams became known as "Double Trouble.''
- Benjamin made two tough catches over the middle, one from Newton and one from backup Derek Anderson, to further he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. He also made a rookie mistake, head-butting the defender late in the first half after making a spectacular catch out of bounds. That earned him a good talking to from coach Ron Rivera.
- The defense started off slow for the second straight week, with the secondary looking shaky at best. But the Chiefs were held to two field goals, and the Panthers tightened things up in the second quarter. Cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman made big plays.
- The offensive line still has some question marks. Newton was sacked twice and Anderson once in the first half. Right tackle Nate Chandler struggled some early and was replaced by veteran Garry Williams for a series. Williams gave up a sack. Left tackle Byron Bell, however, held his own.
- Kenjon Barner looked good on a 32-yard kickoff return, which might seal the fate of wide receiver Keahola Pilares, who did not play. Barner still is scary in pass blocking, allowing the defender to get past him almost untouched to sack Anderson.
- Brenton Bersin's touchdown catch in the third quarter and an earlier catch in which he went low against good coverage might have solidified his spot as the fourth or fifth receiver.
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