The Carolina Panthers have won five straight games and suddenly find themselves the toast of the league. Of course, toasting will cease if Carolina gets roasted Monday night on national television by a Patriots team that seems to be hitting its stride.
Thursday, Panthers coach Ron Rivera resisted the notion that the Patriots will serve as a measuring stick for the team’s progress.
“To me, they are all litmus tests,” said Rivera. “They are all important because it is our next, most important, game because it is the one we are about to play. That’s kind of been my mantra. I don’t want these guys to get ahead of themselves. I want these guys to understand that we have to take care of business every week, so every week is an important game. You know, heck, our first game was important, our second one was, and this one is important just like last week as well. Is it a litmus test? Yeah, they all are.”
Rivera, who played for the Bears in the 1980s and was a linebacker for Chicago’s Super Bowl-winning team, has been coaching in the league since 1999. While with the Eagles, Bears and Chargers, he’s coached against New England. He seems aware that securing a victory over the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick – which the Panthers did last week, 10-9 – is impressive. Still, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a resume that’s a bit lengthier than anything his surging Panthers have dealt with.
“We are playing one of the elites in this league, who just also happens to have one of the elite quarterbacks in this league,” said Rivera.
With the Patriots’ getting players back from injuries over the past few weeks, Rivera notes that the team that takes the field against his team may be different than the one his team’s been viewing on film.
“The hard thing about this team, watching this team, is that there are a lot of guys that have been hurt or are coming back from being hurt so it’s hard to really get a good gauge as to who they are or what they are going to be as we get ready for this football game,” Rivera acknowledged. “The key though is, I believe, that everything starts with the quarterback. Tom Brady is most certainly one of the elites in this league. He does a lot of great things for their offense, so everything we do for us will begin with the quarterback.”
The Panthers front-seven has been outstanding this season and their front-four can bring pressure without committing extra bodies to the rush. That’s been a recipe for difficulty for the Patriots offense.
Rivera, who said after the victory on Sunday that he wants his team to be relevant, seems to feel good about where things are headed.
“It is very satisfying,” he admitted. “It’s really about just the culmination of the hard work we’ve put in. We’ve come a long way in the last four-and-a-half seasons; two seasons before I got here and my first two, have been very hard. [They’ve been] hard on a lot of young players. A lot of guys have gone through four tough years and now just the fact that we are winning, we’re playing pretty good and we’re doing things that right way we’ve given ourselves opportunities. It’s very satisfying.”