CHARLOTTE – Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had every right to be proud after the Panthers' 24-7 win over the Detroit Lions.
The defense created two pivotal takeaways and regularly put quarterback Matthew Stafford under duress, sacking him four times. All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson was targeted 13 times but was limited to six catches for 83 yards.
"It was great team defense," McDermott said. "We got the takeaways we needed to get and we finished off the game the way we needed to finish it.
"You could tell by the look in the players' eyes and I'll throw the coaches in there as well – these guys were focused. They knew they had to be focused and they did one heck of a job."
"We don't have backups," McDermott said. "We look at all of our players as starters. That's what is expected of them and that's how they performed. They stepped up like starters."
The front four stood out, and so, too, did the secondary, which didn't allow a completion longer than 25 yards against Detroit's dangerous vertical attack.
"I really thought the secondary put one of their better games out there," McDermott said. "They were consistent, they were in great position all game long."
The win over the Lions has reaffirmed what many already knew: Carolina's defense, which finished second in in the NFL in total defense last year, is still really, really good.
The Panthers have surrendered 20 points or less in 15 of their last 18 regular season games. Through two games in 2014, Carolina has given up 21 points total.
Shutting down the explosive Lions offense may have gotten the attention of those who'd lost sight of the high-caliber defense being played by Carolina. Now, there are those already wondering if this year's ediiton of the Panthers' defense is superior to the 2013 version.
"I think we are headed in that direction," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We have a lot of guys that have been in the system for (several) seasons now. It's starting to show. You are starting to see where guys don't have to make checks or calls, they just know what their assignments are. That comes from repetition, repetition, repetition. We can be better, and we've still got a long ways to go."
Said linebacker Thomas Davis: "We have a ways to go but we are working. I'm not going to claim it yet. But we want to be the No. 1 defense in this league and we made strides (on Sunday)."
A ways to go is right, and McDermott is excited to see how it plays out. Opposing offenses might not be so eager.
"It's too early to tell," McDermott said, when asked if this year's defense is better. "Ask me after 16 games or however many it takes, and I'll let you know."