The trade deadline came and went Tuesday afternoon without any moves by the undefeated Carolina Panthers.
General manager Dave Gettleman either didn’t get any enticing offers or he doesn’t want to mess with the chemistry of a team that has won 11 consecutive regular-season games and, at 7-0, has matched last year’s regular-season win total. Or both.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s mantra during the 12-win season in 2013 was for his club to be relevant. Carolina achieved that with the franchise’s first back-to-back division titles.
But this year Rivera repeatedly has talked about chasing New England as the NFL standard and attempting to “win it all.”
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He believes these Panthers, despite losing No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin at training camp, are constructed to win.
“How far that is? I don’t know. That’s why I try to stay focused on the next one,” Rivera said Tuesday. “You start thinking about what’s at the end of the journey and you forget about taking the journey. And that’s what the message has to continue to be with our guys.”
The next leg of the journey looks to be the most challenging to date.
Green Bay (6-1) opened with a six-game winning streak before getting drubbed 29-10 at Denver on Sunday night. The Broncos (7-0) held quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing, his lowest in any start that was not shortened by injury.
But Rivera knows the Packers, the Panthers’ first opponent with a winning record, will present problems.
“They’re a good football team. They do have potentially a Hall of Fame quarterback and they’ve got some playmakers. They’ve got an attacking style, aggressive defense,” Rivera said. “We had trouble last year. We’re a different team.”
Rodgers shredded the Panthers’ defense last year, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 win in Green Bay.
Four of the five starters in the secondary against the Packers last season are gone – cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Melvin White, nickel back Charles Godfrey and free safety Thomas DeCoud. Strong safety Roman Harper was the other starter, while corner Josh Norman was sidelined with a concussion.
The secondary was key in Monday night’s 29-26 overtime win against Indianapolis, combining for 14 pass breakups against Andrew Luck. Cornerback Charles Tillman and free safety Kurt Coleman each had interceptions, and Norman helped lock down Colts leading receiver T.Y. Hilton, who was held to a season-low one catch for 15 yards.
Harper finished with 12 tackles and got a hand on Luck’s final pass, batting it in the air before linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted it to set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal.
Players had the day off Tuesday after the Panthers’ first overtime win at home in their history. And while coaches began their preparations for the Packers, it was a quiet day in the front office as the trade deadline passes.
Several national analysts had called for the Panthers to trade for an established wide receiver. But Rivera said he’s comfortable with the makeup of the receiving corps despite the absence of Benjamin, the first-round pick who tore his ACL in an August practice with Miami after breaking the Panthers’ rookie receiving records in 2014.
The Panthers rank 29th in passing offense (205.1 yards a game) and don’t have a wide receiver with more than 20 catches.
Ted Ginn, the de facto No. 1 wideout, had a sure touchdown bounce off his hands Monday during the Panthers’ first overtime possession. Ginn came back to catch a 12-yard pass from Cam Newton two plays later to help set up a Gano field goal that extended overtime.
Newton said he didn’t lose trust in Ginn, the team’s fastest wideout, who had a 48-yard reception in the first half.
“I’ll throw it to him 10 out of 10 times and he will make the play more times than not. I’m not really sweating that,” Newton said of Ginn’s drop. “That’s just a guy that is out there battling and I’ll keep seeing him battle, as well as everyone else.”
Even without a true No. 1 receiver, Rivera said he likes the overall direction of the offense. He mentioned Newton’s dual-threat capabilities, the league’s top-ranked rushing attack and tight end Greg Olsen, the team’s leading receiver with 33 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
“I like the (receiving) group. I think you couple that with our tight end group and then our ability to run the football right now and the threat of our quarterback. Whether he’s going to hand it off, throw it or run it himself,” Rivera said.
“I think all together I like where we are. I like the formula. Obviously, we’d love to have Kelvin out there, Stephen (Hill) out there. Unfortunately we can’t. But I do like the group.”