Panthers use bye to get healthy

The Carolina Panthers plan to take full advantage of their bye week as they try to get healthy for a deep run in the playoffs. Selected players will practice three times this week, but only for an hour each day and with minimal contact as coach John Fox tries to get his team back to full strength before the team's Jan. 10 divisional playoff game at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers needed to rally Sunday to beat the New Orleans Saints 33-31 after blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. The win secured a first-round bye and a home game for the suddenly injury-riddled Panthers.

Carolina played without starting defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis, while offensive linemen Jeff Otah, the team's big mauler at right tackle, and Geoff Hangartner left early. None of the injuries are considered season ending, but clearly the Panthers are better off with a bye coming up.

"We need it as much as anybody -- We're banged up and we've got a lot of healing to do between now and two weeks from now, but we'll take it," said Jordan Gross, who had to move from left tackle to right to account for Otah's absence. Frank Omiyale, who started one game earlier this season, took over at Gross' spot at left tackle.

Jeremy Bridges, who has been platooning with Hangartner since starter Keydrick Vincent went down with a season-ending groin injury, took over at right guard.

If the Panthers had lost, they would have traveled this week to face the Arizona Cardinals.

"There's no doubt that we prefer it worked out that way," Fox said. "But as far as where you are seeded and all of those things, the real key is the bye. In our current state that is going to be beneficial to us because we had some guys nicked up that we'd like to have back before we play again. Had we lost, I'm not sure it would have been the case especially with a long tri ... Obviously it's helpful when you have your best players available."

The Panthers will host a divisional playoff game Saturday, Jan. 10 at 8:10 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium. The opponent has yet to be determined.

If the Minnesota Vikings beat Philadelphia, then Carolina plays them. If Minnesota loses, then Panthers host the winner of the Atlanta-Arizona game.

"The good news is we've played all three of them this year," Fox said. "It's not like they are totally foreign to us. We've played them this season. So that will be helpful."

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