Jerricho Cotchery has played two seasons in Carolina. Last year, the Panthers won the NFC South – and a playoff game – despite finishing with a losing record (7-8-1). This year, they came within one drive of perfection, despite suffering a string of key injuries in the preseason and early in the year.
How has Carolina been able to perform so well with the odds stacked against them?
“Well, I think we have great leadership,” Cotchery said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I think the guys are definitely hungry right now. I know even before I got here, they had the mindset that they were building something special, and I think they’ve continued that. They’ve been knocking on the door for the past couple of years, and I think the guys are just ready to get the job done right now. There’s been a great focus each and every week throughout the course of the year. It’s just been fun to watch. Guys have been enjoying it, but guys have had a great workman-like attitude towards each week. It’s paid off for us.”
Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are at the top of the Panthers’ leadership hierarchy.
“Those guys are stars,” Cotchery said, “but if you came into our locker room, you wouldn’t be able to pick them out because they’re just normal guys interacting with the rest of their teammates. It’s just a great group to be around. It’s just really good dudes, obviously stars in their own right. I think those are the type of guys you have to have when it comes to building championship teams and creating the type of atmosphere that you want to create. Those guys epitomize that.”
Carolina started 14-0 before losing to the Falcons, 20-13, in Atlanta in Week 16. Some felt that losing a game was good for the Panthers, that it was a relief from the pressure of pursuing perfection.
Cotchery didn’t see it that way.
“I don’t think anyone looked at is as a relief,” Cotchery said. “With the mindset that we had – take care of our business each and every week – our heads were down and we were working. We looked up and we were 14-0. At the end of the day, that was a tough loss for us. A lot of guys, I know that locker room was very quiet after the game. We had put so much hard work into each and every week, and that week was no different and we lost to those guys. We were just eager to get back on the field and show what type of team that we are.”
The Panthers responded with a 38-10 win over Tampa Bay in their regular-season finale.
Carolina, which has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, will play its divisional game on Jan. 17 against Washington, Green Bay or Seattle, pending this weekend’s results.