Carolina Panthers players have been given a lot of Mondays off following a victory, a day to sleep in, relax and get their minds off football.
Not this week.
The Panthers (8-0) are off to the best start in franchise history. They are one of three undefeated teams and have won their past 12 regular-season games.
But after watching his team take big leads but fail to put away Indianapolis and Green Bay in a seven-day span, Panthers coach Ron Rivera thought his players needed a reminder about taking care of the little things.
So there they were Monday morning at Bank of America Stadium.
“I opened my meeting to the guys talking about paying attention to the details, about being careful, that winning does mask some of your warts,” Rivera said. “And we have to stress those with our players.”
The Panthers will try to keep rolling this week at Tennessee (2-6), which beat New Orleans 34-28 in overtime Sunday just days after firing Ken Whisenhunt.
I think the way (Green Bay) came back on us toward the end of the game kind of put in our minds that if we’re not on our stuff we can get beat.
Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards
Carolina opened as a six-point road favorite against the Titans. Tennessee is 28th in total offense (331.5 yards a game) and 27th in scoring offense (19.9 ppg), and had dropped six games in a row before winning at the Superdome.
Tennessee’s victory against the Saints – coupled with Green Bay’s fourth-quarter rally – got the Panthers’ attention.
“The big, huge game against the Packers might be an easy way to have a letdown this next week,” defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said Monday. “I think the way (Green Bay) came back on us toward the end of the game kind of put in our minds that if we’re not on our stuff we can get beat.
“And I think (Tennessee) going to New Orleans and beating them raises the flag, and hopefully that’ll take all the us overlooking them out of the way and we can focus on them just the same way we focus on anyone else.”
Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick, had one of his best games against the Saints after missing two weeks with a sprained MCL.
Mariota completed 28 of 39 passes for a season-high 371 yards and four touchdowns, which matched his total from a Week 1 win against Tampa Bay.
As far as I’m concerned it’s a 0-0 season. We want to come out of next week at 1-0.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hadn’t delved too deep into his film study of Mariota as of early Monday afternoon, but said he had the utmost respect for the former Oregon standout.
“Watching how he handled himself in the Heisman presentation – class act,” McDermott said. “I think that goes a long way from a leadership standpoint. And being a young player in this league, you’ve got to think it bodes well for his future and the future of the organization in Tennessee.”
Rivera, who played on a Super Bowl-winning Bears team that started 12-0, said the danger of coaching an undefeated team is taking an opponent lightly.
“We’re going to come up against a Tennessee Titans team that is playing well. They played well (Sunday),” Rivera said. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a 0-0 season. We want to come out of next week at 1-0.”
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said he planned to begin looking at video of the Titans’ offense Monday night, and continue the film study Tuesday during the Panthers’ day off.
Norman said as long as the Panthers keep winning, they’ll be a target for teams like the Titans.
“They won (Sunday) so I think they’ve got some ammo to go into this game. They want to beat an 8-0 team,” Norman said.
“I’m not taking nobody for granted. Nobody. It don’t matter if they’re 1-7, 0-8. I’m not taking them for granted because any given Sunday anybody can beat you and take you off the top of where you want to be. I’m not looking past that, man.”