Panthers look to put 1st loss behind them, earn No. 1 seed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers are looking to put aside the missed opportunity of an unbeaten season and refocus on capturing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
If the Panthers (14-1) beat or tie Tampa Bay on Sunday, they'll wrap up the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history. However, a Carolina loss combined with an Arizona win would give the Cardinals NFC home-field advantage.
Defensive end Jared Allen said the Panthers have put the Atlanta loss behind them.
''Sometimes you get caught up in the idea of being undefeated, and people are like, `Oh they lost,''' Allen said. ''Well, we're still 14-1 and you can let that loss deflate all of the air out of your balloon. We have accomplished a lot of great things - and there are still a lot of great things ahead of us.''
Coach Ron Rivera, 18-4 in December games, said he believes his team has the right type of character to put the loss behind and bounce back.
The Panthers have not lost at home this season.
''Hopefully it is something that motivates us and drives us (knowing) that we have a lot to prove,'' Rivera said. ''Our goal is to win the Super Bowl. That's the vision. That's the destination. But we still have to take the journey. This is a bump in that journey.''
Panthers safety Roman Harper getting to meet Kobe Bryant at an NBA game in Charlotte earlier this week helped him put the loss behind him - and gave him added incentive moving forward. Harper said Bryant gave him some encouragement.
''He's watched us and told us to just go out there and do it - don't come this far and just settle for anything. Just go do it,'' Harper said. ''Coming from the Black Mamba, I said, `Well, we have to go do it.'''
FAMOUS JAMEIS: Bucs QB Jameis Winston is 283 yards shy of joining two other No. 1 overall picks as the only passers since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to throw for 4,000 yards in their rookie season. Cam Newton did it for the Panthers in 2011 and Andrew Luck the following year with the Colts. Winston has thrown for 3,717 yards, fourth most among rookies since the merger. With 23 yards Sunday, he'll pass Peyton Manning (3,739 in 1998) for third place.
Winston is looking for some revenge against the Panthers after throwing four picks in the first meeting with Carolina, one of which Josh Norman returned for a TD.
CAM SQUARED: The Panthers may be without Jonathan Stewart for a third straight game with a foot injury. If that happens, rookie Cameron Artis-Payne will likely get his first NFL start and give Carolina two Cams operating in the backfield with Newton playing quarterback. He ran well against the Falcons after Stewart's backup, Fozzy Whittaker, went down with an ankle injury.
PRODUCTIVE TANDEM: Tampa Bay's Doug Martin enters the season finale as the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,354 yards, 64 behind Adrian Peterson. Martin and teammate Charles Sims form the only running back tandem in the league to both top 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season. Martin also has 211 yards receiving, giving him 1,647 total yards from scrimmage. Sims has 514 rushing and 487 receiving.
WHERE ARE THE SACKS?: The Panthers haven't gotten a sack from defensive ends Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy and Allen in the last five weeks games, which is a concern moving forward for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. ''We've got to affect the quarterback better - no doubt,'' McDermott said.
TURNOVER DROUGHT: Lovie Smith defenses are known for forcing turnovers. During a nine-season stint as coach of the Bears from 2004-2012, Chicago led the NFL with 310 takeaways, returning 34 of them for touchdowns. The Bucs forced 20 turnovers while building a 5-5 record, tied for fourth in the league. They've had just one takeaway the past five games, none while going 0-3 over the past three weeks. No other Smith-coached defense has gone three consecutive games without a takeaway.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL