What do you think about the job Ron Rivera is doing? – Sid in Wittenburg, N.C.
Rivera was asked in the aftermath of Sunday's victory at Seattle what he thought about reporters no longer being able to ask him about his team's difficulties against the Seahawks or coming off byes.
"Thank goodness," Rivera said. "That's all I'll say. We'll go from there."
Dating back approximately two calendar years to Carolina's 1-3 start in 2013 that began with a heartbreaking loss to Seattle in the season opener, Rivera and the Panthers have been in the business of silencing such chatter on a number of fronts.
SEATTLE SLUMP: The Panthers had been a serious threat to the Seahawks four times over the previous three seasons but had never carried it all the way through. That sure changed in the fourth quarter Sunday, when Carolina became just the third visiting team to CenturyLink Field in the last 31 games to head home victorious.
BYE WEEK BLUES: For whatever reason, the Panthers had struggled mightily in the first game after their bye under Rivera, dropping all four games by a combined score of 102-36. The reason remains a mystery but the streak doesn't remain. Maybe it was just a matter of too small of a sample size to mean much.
SLOW STARTS: Rivera's first two teams both started 2-8 before strong finishes that didn't add up to a playoff berth. Rivera's next two teams recovered from slow starts (though the 2014 team technically started strong at 2-0) to both make the playoffs. This year's team has truly put to rest any semblance of concern about slow starts: The 5-0 Panthers have now won nine consecutive regular season games dating to last December, the league's longest current winning streak.
FRUSTRATING FINISHES: Remember when no one thought Rivera could win a close game? Through the Panthers' first two games in 2013, he was 2-14 in games decided by seven or fewer points. But since the legend of "Riverboat Ron" was born in the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss at Buffalo, the Panthers are 12-2-1 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The victory at Seattle improved Carolina to 3-0 in such games this season.
Hey Bryan. I have liked what the offense has done racking up 20-plus points in the first five games. Last year, when we didn't score in the twenties, we lost or found it difficult to win. How can we continue that productivity? – Michael in Danville, Va.
Holding opponents to 20 or fewer points is a commonly held goal for defenses around the NFL, and the Panthers are no exception. Under Rivera, Carolina is 31-13-1 when scoring 20 or more points, including a 24-3-1 mark in the last 28 such games. That stretch started with a Monday Night Football victory at Philadelphia in Week 12 of the 2012 season; the Eagles are set to visit the Panthers for Sunday Night Football.
As you stated, the Panthers are now 5-0 this season when scoring 20 or more after reaching the 20-point plateau just seven times all of last season. So how do they keep it going? Well, quarterback Cam Newton has preached the need for consistency and has delivered to date. The starting offensive line must remain healthy, especially with all the injuries suffered by reserves, and the receivers must keep doing enough to keep defenses honest/keep defenses from being able to key on tight end Greg Olsen.
You asked about the offense, but the defense of course plays a major role in this. The defense is the reason 20 points often is enough, in addition to the unit's ability to create opportunities for the offense.
Hi Bryan. I have been saying this since last year if we don't get a young safety in there we are going to have problems. Roman Harper may have knowledge but his coverage skills have declined. Maybe Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston more? What did you think? – Travis in Gates, N.C.
Rivera expressed a desire Monday to get Boston more than the five defensive snaps he played against the Seahawks, but he didn't do so as any sort of indictment of Harper.
"That's on us. We've got to pay more attention – sometimes you get in the flow of things and don't," Rivera said. "We've got to get a good rotation. The truth of the matter is we've got to save Roman and make sure he's ready to go down the stretch."
Coleman was victimized by Ricardo Lockette's remarkable 40-yard touchdown reception early in the second half, while Harper was in coverage for several of tight end Jimmy Graham's season-high eight catches for 140 yards.
"The Coleman play was just one of those things where he got outjumped – you've just got to give credit. He saw the play, put himself in position, and the guy jumped over him. It's about as good a play as you can make," Rivera said. "On the plays against Roman, a lot of it had to do with the amount of time the quarterback had. Two of those big plays to Jimmy came off scrambles.
"Sometimes it's just not about what happens with the safeties."
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Seattle.