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Panthers get Christmas gift: Rare Wednesday off

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made Tuesday a workday for his players so they could have Christmas off on Wednesday.

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    • NFL playoff scenarios. 5C



Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wanted to make sure his players didn’t take Tuesday’s practice lightly.

On Christmas Eve, he told his players if he had their full attention they would get a Christmas gift – Wednesday off.

“We’ve got a lot of guys with young kids, and what’s going to happen is, it’s the same thing as practicing on Thanksgiving,” Rivera said. “You always worry about their focus and attention. What we did, we took the focus and attention and put it all on (Tuesday’s) practice. And that was the message when we all got started (was) this is a serious practice. Get some work done.”

Rivera said he was pleased with the X’s and O’s at practice, which resembled more of a walk-through than a normal practice.

On a typical week, the Panthers will have Tuesday off and practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a walk-through Saturday. This week, the players will have Christmas off, and those who need to come in for treatment will have a small window during the day to do so.

“The guys can focus on their family (Wednesday) and then come in refreshed Thursday after having a good day off,” Rivera said. “I’m hoping this is a good approach, and who knows? Maybe this is something we can look forward to doing in the future if it comes to this type of situation.”

Rivera met with his coaches Tuesday afternoon and told them if they feel they need to come in Wednesday to do so. If not, stay home. Rivera said he would work into Tuesday night, make a small list of things to take care of Wednesday and spend just a few hours at the building on Christmas. He said if some players have to be at the stadium for treatment, the least he could do is show up, too.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he’d take his work computer home on Christmas, and how much work he has left will decide whether he comes to the stadium.

“I would like to be, yes,” McDermott said when asked if he would be a normal person on Christmas. “I think I owe it to my family like we all do, right?”

Smith still doubtful: There was no official injury report, but Steve Smith still is doubtful for this weekend’s game at Atlanta.

Smith is week-to-week with a PCL sprain he suffered in the first quarter of Sunday’s 17-13 win against the Saints. He began rehab at the stadium at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday and finished at 1:15 p.m. before going to get lunch.

“He’s one of those guys who can will himself to do something. His timetable, believe me I’m not going to set one on him,” Rivera said.

Rivera said he saw no problems with Cam Newton’s ankle and the quarterback will continue to get treatment throughout the week.

Running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) remains doubtful for Sunday.

Cheering for the 49ers: By beating Atlanta 34-24 Monday night, San Francisco kept Carolina’s hopes alive for the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

There’s only one scenario in which Carolina can get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Panthers must beat the Falcons, the 49ers must beat Arizona and the Rams must beat Seattle. If all three happen, San Francisco will win the NFC West and would go head-to-head with the Panthers for the No. 1 seed. Carolina holds the tiebreaker on the 49ers by virtue of its Nov. 10 win.

Rivera watched the Falcons-49ers game and admitted he was cheering for the 49ers while also keeping tabs on the Falcons, his team’s next opponent.

“I was rooting for them,” Rivera said of the 49ers. “If we take care of our business and things fall into place, great. Nothing but good things can happen if we can take care of our business like we’re supposed to. And that’s what I’ll say.”

If Carolina wins Sunday, but the rest of the scenario does not play out, the Panthers are guaranteed the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

Cam Christmas: Newton gave each of his teammates a new pair of studio Beats by Dre headphones for Christmas.

The company endorses Newton, and he had a pair placed in each locker Tuesday afternoon. He personalized each box with his signature, as well.

Rivera, though, did not get a pair.

“That’s one of the lonely things about being the head coach, you don’t get a lot of presents,” Rivera said.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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