Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 12, 2013

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers entered the locker room following practice and the mood was light and lively, with several players breaking into scattered wrestling matches around the room.
Quarterback Cam Newton was all smiles, too.
“There was a great vibe at practice today,” Newton said Wednesday.
The third-year quarterback said the Panthers approached the day eager to put Sunday night’s 31-13 loss to the Saints behind them, but not forget the lessons that come with that disappointing and potential costly defeat.
“We can’t dwell on it,” Newton said. “With this practice today it’s great to know these guys are even more motivated.”
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak.
But the Panthers (9-4) still control their own playoff destiny. Three wins and they’re in the postseason for the first time since 2008.
That chase continues Sunday with a home game against the New York Jets (6-7), another team with playoff aspirations.
“It’s a great opportunity to go out and really prove to ourselves who we are,” Newton said.
Coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week that maybe the Panthers “got a little full ourselves” after the win streak.
Several players concurred with their coach.
“I feel like we did get a little ahead of ourselves as far as feeling good,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “It happens to the best of us. When you get something that you really deserve it gives you a great feeling and you get kind of comfortable in a sense — not really complacent or content, but kind of comfortable.
“I feel like that is where we were for a second and we learned our lesson. We got our hand burned.”
Said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: “Maybe we needed a loss to come back down to Earth and play some great football again. This team is very hungry and our goals are still out there so we’re very excited.”
The Panthers could clinch a playoff berth this week with a combination of a win over the Jets, losses by San Francisco and Arizona and a loss or tie by either Dallas or Philadelphia.
On the other hand, a loss to the Jets and victories by San Francisco and Arizona would suddenly leave the Panthers on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
“There is a lot on the line this week,” Rivera said.
Despite the rough night in the Big Easy, Carolina’s defense has still given up the fewest points in the league.
While Panthers safety Mike Mitchell said he hates to lose, the good thing is it came now instead of in the playoffs so the team can learn from its mistakes.
“I think we had some things show up that hadn’t been happening all year,” Mitchell said. “You have to ask yourself why those things happened. Our coaches did that and got that corrected. Hats off to the Saints. They were the first ones to be able to do it against us.”
Said Newton: “Hey, no one is feeling sorry for themselves here. We have a job at hand and we have to be prepared for the task — and we will be.”