CHARLOTTE – When Dave Gettleman talks, people listen.
And well they should.
The Panthers' general manager isn't a man of few words by any means, but he doesn't often share his words of wisdom with the media.
When he does, like he did Thursday as the Panthers continue preparations for hosting an NFC Division Playoff, it's required listening.
Here are some key takeaways from his nearly 20-minute session:
1. HE HAS A METHODICAL METHOD TO THE MADNESS: Piecing together a winning NFL roster is part science, part art.
It's a part that Gettleman has played over the last three years pretty close to perfection.
"As long as you're thorough, you'll be fine. Will you make a mistake? Everybody makes mistakes," Gettleman said. "But that's what it's all about – being thorough and methodical. People want you to make splashes and go sign this guy, go sign that guy. When Kelvin (Benjamin) went down, people wanted me to sign every 95-year-old wide receiver that ever put pads on. The bottom line is, you have to trust in your evaluation."
When the Panthers let running back DeAngelo Williams go, when they signed left tackle , when they didn't sign a big-name receiver after Benjamin suffered a season-ending injury in training camp, criticism followed. But Gettleman and those around him didn't waver from what this team needed within the limitations of the salary cap, and now they're 15-1.
2. HE SAW THIS COMING - KIND OF: "Did I envision this? No," Gettleman said of Carolina's gaudy 15-1 record. "Did I envision us playing well? I spoke to you guys before the season started, and I felt this was our strongest roster ever. But 15-1? Who expects that, because it's so stinking hard to win games in this league."
Still, Gettleman's expectations exceeded those of many observers who didn't think Carolina would sniff a third consecutive division title given how Gettleman approached the offseason. Gettleman believes that it's a matter of perspective, as he viewed last year's 7-8-1 team that was once 3-8-1 different than some folks did.
"The narrative that begins in the summer or starts in the spring – Panthers were lucky to go 7-8-1, they're in a crappy division, they played Arizona (in the playoffs) who had their third-string quarterback out there. Go to Seattle (in NFC Divisional Playoff) and play them tough and get no credit for it," Gettleman said.
Instead, Gettleman saw a team close to figuring it out. He was right.
3. HE ISN'T DOWN ON THE DEFENSIVE ENDS: The lack of sacks from Carolina's defensive ends has been a hot topic the last few weeks, but Gettleman isn't hot under the collar about what's been going on.
He pointed out that the Panthers still rank sixth in the NFL with 44 sacks, and more importantly they're affecting the quarterback even if they're not flattening him.
"The biggest thing was we kept moving him off the spot," Gettleman said. "Do we want to get home? Sure. But the biggest thing is the disruption involved. Our front four has consistently disrupted the other quarterback."
Gettleman cited a play in the regular season finale on which Jameis Winston had a receiver running wide-open deep but missed him by five yards because he was on the move thanks to heat from the defensive line.
"What's the quarterback rating against us right now? Something like 65?" Gettleman said. "That's pretty damn good."
4. HE'S IN THE SECONDARY'S CORNER: Defensive backs, of course, play a pivotal role in pass defense, and the Panthers are down two of their best with Bene Benwikere and now Charles Tillman out for the season.
Gettleman countered by signing veterans Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain – another pair of moves paying off.
"Cortland has done a heck of a job," Gettleman said. "He's gotten better. Cortland didn't go to camp with anybody, but he's a nine-year vet who has played at a very high level. So we worked him in, and he's getting better every week. He really had a good game against Tampa.
"As far as Robert is concerned, he has bounced around a little bit. He was in camp with New England, and we liked what saw. … You've seen what Robert has done, and as long as our front keeps pushing those quarterbacks around, I have great confidence."
5. HE BELIEVES PANTHERS ARE READY FOR THE PLAYOFFS: The Panthers of course aren't perfect, and if it's "stinking hard" to win in the regular season, it's that much harder in the postseason.
The team just has to hope it plays its best. Gettleman has already done his best to build a team whose best will be good enough.
"Obviously, when you are rolling along, you say to yourself, 'How far can we really go? Are we built for the long run?'" Gettleman said. "What I really like about this team is the balance that we have. There isn't any positon group that you say, 'Oh gosh, this team could take advantage of that group.'
"This is a matchup game. The NFL is a matchup game – don't let anybody tell you any different. It's one of those situations where I really like our balance. I've felt really good about it all year long."