Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith wasn’t biting earlier this week when asked about the Saints bounty allegations.
But that’s not the only thing the Panthers have to be tight about.
Several Panthers expressed dismay at the Saints’ decision to run up the score in last year’s finale, leaving starters in to break records while the Panthers defense was limping to the finish line.
The Saints won 45-17, leaving quarterback Drew Brees and other starters in well into the fourth quarter at the behest of suspended coach Sean Payton.
“It’s a philosophy. It’s an attitude. And that’s what his is,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “So he coaches that way and they play that way. My attitude and my philosophy is win the football game, and then be smart about the next week. That’s just the way I look at it, a difference in philosophy.”
Of the Panthers defensive starters that day, seven are still on the roster, but only four started last week’s opener at Tampa Bay (cornerback Chris Gamble, strong safety Charles Godfrey, linebacker James Anderson and defensive end Antwan Applewhite).
That kind of turnover makes it difficult to raise a healthy disrespect argument, because the Panthers defense is completely different with several regulars on the field (including defensive end Charles Johnson, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis) and newcomers Luke Kuechly and Dwan Edwards.
The Saints had already nailed down the third seed in the playoffs and weren’t moving up, but Brees said on a conference call it was more important to go into the playoffs on a roll. And did they ever, gaining 617 yards to break the 2000 Rams’ old mark for yards in a season with 7,474
“When it got into the third and fourth quarter, [Darren] Sproles was close to the record of most all-purpose yards in history. Jimmy Graham was close to most yards for a tight end in history,” Brees said. “So were we trying to get those guys some touches, some yards, in order to break those records? Yeah, absolutely. Who wouldn’t?”
The Panthers, apparently.
“When you’re going for it on fourth-and-1 when you’re up by 50,000 points, it’s what you’re supposed to do. But it’s not what you’re supposed to do, at the same time,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “So I’m not happy about that.”
Then again, Hardy and the Panthers have an opportunity to do something about it this weekend, when injuries are no longer an excuse.