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Saints' travel woes not Rivera's concern

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera seemed almost at a loss for words when asked what he thought of the New Orleans Saints having their return from a Monday night game at Seattle delayed by more than 12 hours due to issues with their plane.

"OK,'' said the Carolina Panthers coach, who is preparing for the Saints on Sunday night in New Orleans.

He paused.

"It's unfortunate it happened,'' continued Rivera, almost as if he had to say something at this point. “I will say probably every one of their coaches probably had their laptops with them. They had their video directors with them and they were probably able to work. I know that one, as a position coach and coordinator I always traveled with that.

"Whenever there was an opportunity I’d get on to the next thing. I imagine that their coaches are creative enough that they got their work done. Believe me, in situations like this, you figure it out.”

In other words, don't expect Rivera to feel sorry for the Saints because they didn't get back until around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday instead of 6 a.m.

He'll take whatever advantage he can get as these 9-3 teams battle for the NFC South lead. He already admitted he hoped New Orleans having a short preparation week because of the "Monday Night Football" game helped

But Rivera can sympathize with the Saints. As a linebacker under coach Mike Ditka with the Bears, the team had to spend an extra night in San Francisco after getting "whacked'' by the 49ers because of a huge snowstorm in Chicago.

"Coach Ditka was not in a very good mood,'' Rivera recalled. "We stayed, got up early, watched the entire tape as a team from the opening kickoff to the final whistle, and then got on the airplane and flew back.

"That makes for a very long morning.''

Needed to clinch: The Panthers can clinch a playoff spot with -- a win over New Orleans, an Arizona loss to St. Louis, a San Francisco loss to Seattle, a Philadelphia loss or tie with Detroit and a Dallas loss or tie with Chicago.

OK, maybe not the best odds this week.

Punching bag: For the third time this season and second by wide receiver Steve Smith, former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was on the receiving end of pointed remarks.

Prior to the season, Smith blamed Chudzinski for some of Carolina's offensive problems the past two seasons. When asked about the team's lack of offensive players among NFL statistical leaders, he again brought up Chudzinski, now the head coach at Cleveland.

“If the team goals are greater than the individual goals, then that’s the whole point,” Smith said. “I look at our old coordinator, [Browns receiver] Josh Gordon has my whole stats in two games. He caught two-hundred and something yards last week [261 yards in a 32-28 loss to Jacksonville]. How many points did they score? Three?

“A lot of years, I had great stats sitting at home in January watching other people play.”