CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera said it's nice to be 1-0 for the first time in his four-year tenure.
It's even nicer to be able to learn from a victory rather than a loss.
The defense certainly should be able to learn a thing or two from Sunday's 20-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers were pitching a shutout midway through the fourth quarter, only to allow the Buccaneers to score two touchdowns and a make a game of it.
"Our fourth-quarter defense, that's one thing that was real disappointing," Rivera said. "For whatever reason, the mentality and maybe with the calls defensively, we could have put ourselves in better position to make plays or stop them."
The Buccaneers gained just 143 yards of total offense before taking possession with 9:34 left in the game for what proved to be their first scoring drive. Starting with that drive, they amassed 119 yards on their final four possessions.
"I thought our conditioning and preparation for the game was good, so I don't think that had a lot to do with it," Rivera said. "They did some good things and made some plays, but I also think we as a group might have gotten comfortable."
That comfort level was shattered when, with 1:36 left on the clock, Tampa Bay got the ball with a chance to win the game with a touchdown.
"They fought back and made it a game," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "But we executed at the end to win."
The defense responded to the threat, sealing the victory when linebacker Luke Kuechly forced a fumble that rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere corralled.
"That's one of the things we work on in practice, and for him to follow through and do things the way we want them done speaks very well to how he prepares," Rivera said. "To see a young player play heads-up and put himself in position to make a play for us, that's important and good for us."
FINISHING TOUCHES: Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin earned a game ball for catching six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, but he also got some guidance.
"He did a lot of good things and was very productive, but that doesn't speak to the whole body," Rivera said. "His grade should have been higher. He's got to understand how to finish plays, how to be involved in plays even if the ball isn't coming to him.
"He's a young guy that has to learn those things. Those are things that rookies learn and understand over time."
UP NEXT: The Panthers will open their home schedule Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit Bank of America Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Lions actually begin their season on Monday Night Football against the New York Giants, giving Rivera an opportunity to watch them live.
"We'll try to see if we can pick something up from the TV version as opposed to the coach's version," Rivera said.