The Carolina Panthers are playing in what they consider a must-win game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but not before N.C. State and Mississippi State finished their respective seasons on the Bank of America Stadium field on Wednesday.
Belk Bowl preparation interrupted the Panthers’ normal game-week schedule, and the game played Wednesday is expected to do some damage to the field. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera felt confident Wednesday afternoon that his team would be fine.
The Panthers used Tuesday – normally an off day – to install the basic game plan and get reacquainted with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I was a little concerned about it, but in light of how things went yesterday afternoon and how they went this morning, no, I’m really not,” Rivera said of sharing space with the Belk Bowl. “We were able to get out there and get good work. The tempo was really good.
“The nice thing about it is we’ll get the guys in and out and get them off their feet. This is the 17th week of the season. To be able to get them in and out and get them off their feet is a huge plus for us.”
The Panthers practiced Wednesday at 8:45 a.m., the earliest practice in recent memory, and finished around 10:30. Players then went to the weight room, had meetings and planned to be gone by 2 p.m.
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said the grounds crew was confident the field would hold up after the Belk Bowl. The field was covered throughout Wednesday morning to protect it from the rain.
The Panthers have re-sodded the field at least twice this year – after the Week 9 game against Green Bay and again before the ACC Championship Game in early December.
They will re-sod only the middle of the field before Sunday, to replace the Belk Bowl logo with the gold NFL shield, but that will be it. The Panthers, per usual when going to the playoffs, will re-sod the entire field after the Bucs game, during the bye week.