Carolina Panthers

NFC South 2014: ‘We’re by no means out of the race,’ Panthers’ Ron Rivera says

Despite ceding the division lead to New Orleans after a dispiriting loss, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera says all is not lost.

The Panthers (3-5-1) have not won a game in nearly a month and fell out of first place in the NFC South for the first time this season after the 28-10 loss to the Saints (4-4).

But Rivera said the Panthers still have a shot in a division in which no team has a winning record.

“We’re by no means out of the race,” Rivera said Friday. “We’re behind a little bit, but we’re still in a good situation.”

Carolina is trying to become the first team to repeat as champion in the NFC South. The Panthers have never posted back-to-back winning seasons or made the playoffs in consecutive years in the franchise’s 20-year history.

They have four games remaining against division teams, including a Dec. 7 contest at New Orleans, where the Saints are undefeated.

In 2008, Rivera was an assistant on a San Diego team that won its final four regular-season games to finish 8-8 and claim the AFC West title, then beat Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs.

“So it’s possible. Anything’s possible. Don’t count us out. We’re going to bounce back,” Rivera said. “We’ve got seven games to play.”

The Panthers are off until a Monday night game at Philadelphia on Nov. 10. After a four-day break, the Panthers will return to practice Wednesday.

Rivera hopes to have several injured players back for the Eagles game, including defensive backs Thomas DeCoud and Bené Benwikere, returner Philly Brown and offensive linemen Byron Bell and Amini Silatolu.

DeCoud said the Panthers’ “mini-break” comes at a good time, and he believes the Panthers still have time to make a run.

“We’re one game on the other side of midseason,” DeCoud said. “So there’s still plenty of football to be played.”

Oh, Canada: Rivera was able to take some positives out of an otherwise negative game for his undrafted rookie tackle David Foucault.

Starting in his first NFL game replacing injured left tackle Byron Bell, Foucault showed flashes of his abilities but was exposed several times against the Saints.

Of Cam Newton’s four sacks, three came on Foucault’s watch. But Rivera didn’t think the moment was too big for the French-Canadian.

“I think the situations were, is a better way to put it. You’re down, the clock’s running and you’re down, they can pin their ears back and it gets tough for him,” said Rivera, referring to two sacks Foucault allowed at the end of the game. “Truthfully though some of those things weren’t all just him.

“I think the future is bright for him. He’s got an opportunity to grow into the position.”

Foucault comes from Canada, where rules force the defender to be a yard away from the offense before the snap. There’s no such rule in American football, and Foucault has had to adjust to that and the speed of the NFL, like all rookies.

He also needs to gain weight. Focuault weighs 305 pounds but the Panthers want him to add 10 more pounds to be an effective tackle in the league.

Hot jerseys: Despite a 3-5-1 record, the Panthers have some of the hottest-selling jerseys in the NFL. According to sales at Dick’s Sporting Goods stores, the Panthers are third on the team chart behind Seattle and Denver, who played in last season’s Super Bowl.

Of the top 10 best-selling jerseys, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is No. 5 and is the only defensive player in the top 10. Quarterback Cam Newton is No. 8.

Carolina is the only team with two players in the top 10.

Roster move: The Panthers signed former North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick to the practice squad and cut running back Tauren Poole on Friday.

Reddick went undrafted out of North Carolina in 2013 and signed with the Saints. He played mostly on special teams last season with New Orleans. He played in two games for San Diego this season before getting cut earlier this month.