CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said he met with owner David Tepper Monday morning and appreciated his confidence, and that his focus remains on doing the daily work of the team rather than worrying about his own future.
Rhule said Tepper had been "unbelievably supportive."
"All of our conversations this morning were about the best things to do moving forward," Rhule said. "He's been tremendously supportive, and shown me a ton of confidence in terms of what we're doing. We're certainly not where we want to be, but we knew this was something that was going to have to be done right. Dave's been nothing but great to me, and I appreciate his confidence."
Asked whether Tepper explicitly said his job was safe, Rhule said he didn't ask.
"I don't ask those direct questions, and I would never speak to his words," he's said. "I hope you understand that. He's shown me nothing but confidence about me and the future moving forward, but I would never speak for him; I feel like that would be out of line.
"I don't think about anything other than doing my job. I hope when you think back about all the things I've said, I've been pretty consistent. My job is to do the best I can each and every day to give our players a chance to win. I talk to Mr. Tepper several times a week. We talk after every game. We're always talking about the future and what's there. In terms of votes of confidence, my job, all those different things, those things are all out of my hands.
"I'm going to go back to my office and try to put together the best plan for our guys this week, and I hope that our players respect that and appreciate that. None of this is ever about me. It's about the team. It's the Panthers, our players, and I'm going to keep pushing forward."
Rhule acknowledged hearing the boos on Sunday, which is what happens when you're 5-10, and 2-6 at home.
"At the end of the day, my job is to keep helping the players improve, keep helping the organization move to the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, and giving these fans what they deserve. They deserve a team that wins games, and wins at home. We have not gotten that done yet. I certainly understand all of those things. I want nothing more than what they want, and that is for us to bring a champion here to Carolina. When it's not happening, I just focus on what's next; I focus on what can I do today, and it's all these little micro-decisions. It's hey, doing the best thing we can with the roster, trying to play our best game against New Orleans this week. The same things the following week. That to me is the only way you can accomplish anything great."
— That work this week got even more complicated after a COVID-19 outbreak. On Monday, six more players were added to the list, including defensive end Brian Burns and linebacker Shaq Thompson. The Panthers now have 13 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Panthers sent players home Monday as soon as the players tested positive. Instead of having in-person meetings, they switched to virtual to try to "stem the tide" of their outbreak. Rhule said the hope was that by going virtual today, they could get back to a normal schedule Wednesday.
But they're also working to fill some vacancies, since they have 45 players on the active roster (eight short of the limit) and a couple of practice squad spots to fill.
— While the result Sunday was obviously not what they wanted, Rhule said he was encouraged when he looked back at the film and saw the kind of effort he was looking for.
"The biggest thing for us is to play these last two games the right way," Rhule said. "I saw some areas, we had a lot of young guys out there, but I saw guys like Shaq Thompson running sideline to sideline, I saw guys like DaQuan Jones giving tremendous effort inside. Some of our defensive linemen played their best games. Watching Derrick Brown, taking some real steps right now. You see Yetur Gross-Matos really coming on. We know we have a lot, a lot of work to do right now. I think the best thing we can do right now is focus on where we're at."
— Rhule said that because he hasn't talked to the players involved yet, he didn't want to make a declarative statement about his plans at quarterback this week. They started Cam Newton, and he played 26 snaps, with Sam Darnold coming on and playing the other 44.
"In light of our unique circumstances now, I'll address that very definitively on Wednesday," Rhule said.
— Rhule wasn't sure whether Stephon Gilmore would be able to return this week or not, but said the veteran cornerback indicated his injury was not as severe as it first appeared.
Gilmore left Sunday's game with a groin injury and did not return.
"I talked to Stephon last night. He said it didn't seem as serious," Rhule said. "That being said, they're running him through some tests today, so I'll wait to see where he's at medically.
"Stephon's a true professional, so when he says it's not as bad as first thought, . . . obviously he's a guy who wants to play. So I'll have to wait and see what the doctors say today."
View photos of the Panthers taking on Tampa Bay in the 2021 home finale in Week 16.