CHARLOTTE – The season is off to a good start, but a couple of the Panthers' leaders on offense believe their unit needs to get off to a good start for Carolina to keep it going.
"The big thing for me is that we've got to do a better job in the beginning of the game, got to get into a rhythm a lot faster," center Ryan Kalil said. "We've got to be able to respond quicker."
The next chance to start strong comes Sunday in Carolina's first NFC South matchup, when the Panthers host a New Orleans team looking to jumpstart its season with quarterback Drew Brees out of action due to injury for the first time in his 14-plus NFL seasons.
Luke McCown will start for Brees, who is dealing with a shoulder injury.
"They're working on things, and they're coming in for a division game, so they're going to bring everything they can," wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. said. "They're going to come out and be a lot better than they've been."
The Saints are 0-2 and need a road victory to avoid falling into an early three-game hole behind the Panthers, who are 2-0 despite a pair of slow starts on offense.
"We can't give those guys any hope," quarterback Cam Newton said. "We have to create a killer instinct, but we know that's not going to be easy. They have a lot of talent on that team."
The 2014 Panthers developed a killer instinct just in time to make a dramatic turnaround and claim their second consecutive division title. Following losses at home to New Orleans and Atlanta during a six-game losing streak that appeared to sink the Panthers, Carolina finished the regular season with a four-game winning streak bookended by victories at New Orleans and Atlanta by a combined score of 75-13.
The Panthers showed a hint of killer instinct in last week's home opener against the Houston Texans. Leading 17-10 with about nine minutes left, Carolina followed an interception by linebacker A.J. Klein with a deep strike on the next snap from Newton to Philly Brown for a 36-yard touchdown.
Klein is expected to get his second consecutive start with Luke Kuechly still out of action following a Week 1 concussion.
Last week's strong finish followed a sluggish start as Carolina's first four drives all ended with punts. The week before, in the season opener at Jacksonville, the first four drives resulted in a field goal; a missed field goal set up by a big punt return; a punt; and an interception.
"We've got to execute our game plan and be very efficient," Newton said. "We've just got to be prepared for anything and not let those guys dictate to us."
Newton said the Saints defensive backs are playmakers just waiting for the Panthers to make a mistake, and he compared preparing for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's game plan to trying to "crack the Da Vinci code."
That's why the Panthers want to get off to a fast start in their quest to stop the Saints from breaking free from their slow start.
"I don't really look at records – that's not always indicative of a team," Kalil said. "Just look at us. We've started off slow before and have been able to turn it around.
"We've played well as a unit, but there are still some things we need to be better. We've got to be fast and physical with them."