Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 10, 2013

CHARLOTTE — Coach Ron Rivera said Carolina’s 31-13 loss to the Saints Sunday night was “humbling experience” and could help his team to refocus as it makes a playoff push.
“Maybe we needed a little bit of that,” Rivera said. “Maybe we got a little full of ourselves and thought we were capable of just showing up.”
Rivera said he thought his team’s energy was good last week but added, “I thought we’d know our opponent better and I thought we would play better situational football. We didn’t. There were some basic fundamental things that we messed up, or like we like to say, football 101 things.”
It was Carolina’s most lopsided loss of the season.
But while players were already talking about rematch with the Saints at home Dec. 22, Rivera said it’s vital the Panthers focus on preparing for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, a team with playoff aspirations of their own.
Carolina and San Francisco lead all NFC wild card contenders at 9-4, but Arizona (8-5) and Dallas (7-5) remain in the hunt with three games left in the regular season.
The loss left the Panthers with a sour taste in their mouths.
After the game, third-year quarterback Cam Newton said of the Saints, “Are they better than us? No.”
Newton has plenty of reason to be motivated.
He was sacked five times and couldn’t get the Panthers in the end zone until a meaningless fourth quarter TD pass to Steve Smith cut the Saints lead to 18. The Panthers struggled inside the 20 on both sides of the ball, and Newton said that can’t happen in big games.
The Panthers came in with the fourth most efficient red zone offense in the league but settled for field goals on their first two drives, costing them a chance to quiet the Superdome crowd and seize control of the game. Instead, the Saints scored the game’s next 31 points.
The loss snapped a franchise-record eight-game winning streak.
Carolina’s no-name secondary which had played so well all season was exposed.
Drew Brees threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns. To put those numbers in perspective, the Panthers had only allowed 209.6 yards passing per game coming in and had surrendered just nine touchdown passes in 12 games.
Even if the Panthers beat the Saints (10-3) in the rematch, they’d still need some outside help to win the NFC South and earn a first-round bye.
New Orleans holds the conference tiebreaker, so the Panthers would have to win out and have the Saints lose at St. Louis this week or at home to Tampa Bay in Week 17 to win their first division title since 2008.
“To know we can go out and play better and not have that happen — that’s very disappointing,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “But it’s not the end of the world. We’re sitting at 9-4 right now, and everything we set out to accomplish is still right ahead of us.”
The means beating the Jets.
“The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face this same team in two weeks,” Newton said. “But our focus is not on that right now. Our focus is on the New York Jets and we will be ready for those guys this upcoming Sunday.”
The Panthers did suffer a key loss as running back Jonathan Stewart torn the MCL in his right knee. Rivera said Stewart’s ACL is fine and he will be evaluated in 10 days. Rivera said that means DeAngelo Williams will get the bulk of carries against the Jets.