SPARTANBURG Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas said when coaches bring up his perceived punch in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he doesn’t offer any opposition.
Thomas’ swing effectively ended any hope of a Carolina comeback during the 23-10 loss in January. He said Tuesday at training camp the coaches have used that clip as a teaching lesson for players.
Though he has never agreed with the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, he lets the coaches use the moment.
“In meetings, the coaches will use the situation like we had a guy last year who lost his cool,” Thomas said. “And I never try to object to what the coaches are saying because what it looks like and what happened, it’s easier to say he lost his cool.
“Instead of trying to object to that, I want to allow that situation for the other guys in the room to learn from it. You don’t want to be selfish, you do want to win and you do want to make the right choices.”
A fourth-year cornerback, Thomas doesn’t want to be known for the swing. He’s trying to apply more coaching to his athleticism this year, and he believes he can regain a starting job.
To get that, he has had to overcome back spasms that kept him out of the first week of training camp, and he’s tried to move on from his final play of the 2013 season.
With the 49ers on their own 29 facing third-and-10, running back Kendall Hunter picked up 2 yards on a rush, forcing San Francisco to punt with about 31/2 minutes left in the game. The Panthers would have to score twice in that time with no timeouts, but there was at least hope.
Near the 49ers’ sideline, Thomas and San Francisco receiver Quinton Patton got tangled up. Thomas took Patton to the ground and, according to him, Patton pulled on his jersey as the cornerback tried to get up.
That led to Thomas taking a swipe at Patton’s arm, which had since released from his jersey. The appearance of Thomas taking a frustrated late-game swing at an opponent – during a game with three personal foul calls for Carolina – is what remained.
“I feel they were calling a bad game the whole game, in terms of fairness,” Thomas said. “But that’s our first playoff game and that’s how it turned out. I know now to avoid those kinds of situations and to keep it clean.
“It was to their sideline and their coach did a good job of selling it. It happens and I’ve definitely learned from that. I’m looking forward to another opportunity.”
Safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on San Francisco’s first drive. Then cornerback Captain Munnerlyn got an unnecessary roughness flag on the next drive. Finally, Thomas was flagged for his swing.
“Quite honestly I wasn’t upset as much as I was disappointed (in him), and disappointed in ourselves,” Rivera said. “If you go back and watch the game, that wasn’t the reason we lost. We lost because we were a young and inexperienced team that couldn’t keep its composure. And it started with me.
“I spent a little bit too much time yelling at the referees when I should have been concentrating on the game. That’s a lesson we all learn and hopefully as we go forward it’ll be a very valuable lesson.”
Thomas was fined $7,875 for the punch, but Tuesday he said he appealed the fine, won and got his money back.
With the past behind him, Thomas has prepared for this season by working on recognizing offensive formations better. He had plenty of time for mental reps earlier in camp when he missed the first week with back spasms.
Thomas injured himself doing yard work at his Charlotte-area home. He put in 12-hour days of digging in red clay and lifting rocks, which caused the back injury.
“It started out as I was trying to save myself some money,” Thomas said. “I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll go ahead and do it myself and get ready for the heat in Spartanburg.’
“I’m not much of a weight room guy. I like to have a little bit more fun, have a little bit more focus.”
Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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