Game preview: Panthers at Bills

It isn't about winning and losing – it's how you play the game.

Head coach Ron Rivera would love for the Panthers to head home from Buffalo with a victory in hand from Friday night's preseason opener against the Bills, but he's more focused on returning with a healthy team that has reason to be happy about its level of execution.

"It's about consistency more than anything else – going out there and consistently moving the ball and consistently being good on defense," Rivera said. "I'd love to have a couple of drives go seven or eight plays and turn around and have a couple of three-and-outs on defense.

"You want that – I don't know how feasible that is the first game – but I'm looking for consistency."

Rivera was more apt to harp on the value of winning earlier in his tenure when he was working to establish a winning culture. But the reigning NFC South champions - twice over – now have that, so the end result isn't necessarily as important.

Just don't tell quarterback Cam Newton, not after countless practices aimed at preparing for the 2015 season under his belt since January.

"We want to win," Newton said. "This game is nothing different than any other game. We're putting our best foot forward. We've got guys that are going to go out there and compete."

Newton's ability to impact the outcome will be limited. Rivera said the goal for Newton and the starters would be to play the first quarter before giving way to backups fighting for their football lives.

"Especially with the second and third groups, guys we put in position to make plays have to make plays," Rivera said. "A lot of guys are going to get opportunities, especially at the wide receiver position. Also defensive end with Charles Johnson not playing, there's going to be a shot for a lot of guys."  

Johnson (calf) is among several players not expected to see action, a list that includes but likely won't be limited to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (foot) and offensive lineman Amini Silatolu (calf). Rivera said he'd also use caution with guys like cornerback Bene Benwikere and defensive tackle Kawann Short, who have recently returned to practice from injuries.

Those playing first and foremost want to avoid joining the injury list, but of course it's about more than that.

"I think the biggest thing for us is just playing fast, playing together," center Ryan Kalil said. "We've been doing some good stuff so far this training camp, but a lot of that is in controlled situations.

"It will be exciting, and I look forward to seeing how it goes live and unscripted."

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