DETROIT — For Panthers head coach Frank Reich, this is not uncharted territory. So his message to his team was a familiar one for him and the franchise he took over this offseason.
Asked what he told the locker room at a 42-24 loss at Detroit that dropped them to 0-5, Reich offered the words that are stitched into the collars of each of their jerseys on game day.
"You Keep Pounding; you know, Keep Pounding," Reich said. "You get to this position, and no one envisioned this. And so you have to, this is the embodiment of Keep Pounding. And the only way you do that is if you believe it's going to make a difference; otherwise you just check out. And that's the essence of Keep Pounding.
"It's a mental toughness that even when things aren't going your way, you go back in, we go back in and try to have our best week of work ever this week because I think it will, I think it will make a difference in me. I think it makes a difference in everybody who does that. And I believe our players will do that, that they will."
Reich has been in similar situations in games as a player or seasons as a coach. From his famous comeback as the quarterback in the Bills-Oilers playoff game to his first year with the Colts when they turned a 1-5 start into a 10-6 record and a playoff win, he's seen that it can turn around.
Granted, the Panthers are going to have to play a much cleaner brand of football for that to happen (after three early turnovers buried them Sunday), but he was consistent in his messaging afterward that they're building toward something. For what it's worth (admittedly, not much), they did put together a couple of long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, though the result of the game was settled at that point. It wasn't much, but it was at least something.
"Keep fighting to get better and know that it's going to make an impact, it's going to make an impact this year, tomorrow, and future days," Reich said. "We have a great group of veteran leaders and listen, I don't feel sorry for any of us, right? But I feel bad that we're here. So these guys are working hard, making sacrifices, and you want to win for a lot of reasons, but you want to win for these guys, these leaders in the locker room.
"And I believe that will happen. I don't know when, but I believe that we will keep working towards that. I believe we have the players to do it. I believe we have the coaches to do it. And that's why you fight and scratch and claw every day because you believe that and, I will never waver in that. I know the guys in that locker room; I know the coaches in that locker room.
"So you have that belief, and you want it all to come to fruition right now, next week against the Miami Dolphins, and this year, and we turn things around and have a miraculous turnaround, and that can happen. But if it doesn't happen, and if we're fighting and scratching to get better for the future. I don't know what's going to happen. I do know this, that we, that I'm going to come to work, and this will be my best week of work ever."
— One of those leaders, outside linebacker Brian Burns, admitted the frustration with himself and the situation. He said in the locker room that he apologized to the defense for his reaction after one of the team's mistakes. The Lions got an easy fourth-and-1 conversion in the third quarter when Nick Thurman was flagged for a neutral zone infraction. Burns slammed his helmet on the sidelines, and veteran teammate Justin Houston went to calm him down.
"Yeah, I was frustrated, my passion came out," Burns said. "You know, after I did that, I went to my defense and apologized, let them know I'm still here. But it's a passionate game, and yeah, my passion came out. But it's not right for me to lash out because we make mistakes.
"I didn't have a perfect game. Nobody had a perfect game by any means. . . . I feel like it still sends a message to the entire defense that they can't see me like this."
Burns also said, "I'm not afraid to look in the mirror," and pointed out a play in which he "whiffed on a tackle." From that perspective, he wasn't about to use a new coaching staff, all the offseason turnover, or anything else as an excuse.
Reich said he admired the way Burns has handled everything thrown at him this offseason.
"I cannot say enough about Brian Burns," he said. "He stands for everything, everything you want a football player to stand for, everything you want a leader to stand for.
"I mean, that guy is, he's the epitome of what you want as a winner. That guy is a winner, and that's where you feel bad for guys like that, you know, that he's been here a long time. We've not been able to win, and, he, we all, everybody deserves better. But he deserves better, and I believe that's why we're here, and I believe that it can work out where he can see that."
— A Panthers defense that has played well at times this year was forced into too many unenviable positions, with the three first-half turnovers giving a Lions offense that didn't need the help of short fields. All three of the turnovers gave them the ball inside the Panthers' 40-yard line.
"I'll say, that's an opportunity for the defense," linebacker Frankie Luvu said. "I know offense can change the field position and everything like that.
"But to us, you know, we've just got to have that mindset like it's another opportunity we can't let them in and help them get back on the field."
— Reich was questioned about the team's play-calling and the quarterback situation in general. He said that he continued to call the plays, with the usual amount of collaboration with offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
When asked specifically if he considered pulling rookie quarterback Bryce Young, he replied: "No, there was no point where I was considering any change."
View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Detroit Lions in Week 5.