CHARLOTTE – If a Miami fan buoyed by the Dolphins' 3-0 start had tried to map out how the rest of the season might play out, they might have worried about Miami looking past this week's game against the Panthers toward next week's division matchup with the New York Jets.
Now that the game has arrived, Panthers fans are the ones that might be worried about a letdown.
While it goes to show how much things can change, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is not worried about his team changing its one-game-at-a-time approach.
"We're going to talk about what is now," Rivera said. "If they look at it any other way, then I didn't do a good enough job. I'm not going to allow it. I'm telling the guys, 'This is who we're playing. You've got to focus.' "
The Dolphins are far from pushovers. At 5-5, they're tied with the Jets for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. It's just that the Panthers (7-3) are coming off a pair of marquee victories, having knocked off the 49ers in San Francisco and then the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football to extend their winning streak to six.
"A letdown? It ain't possible," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "Not in this locker room. We've been through it all. We started 0-2, people writing us off. There is no letdown."
The recent victories have put the Panthers in position to achieve all of their preseason goals, but Rivera is reminding his team how easily they can fall out of position.
"If we lose focus on the next game being the biggest game and then screw it up and lose, what you did the previous weeks no longer matters," he said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, and we don't want to look back. We want to look right where we are."
BACK TO WORK: The importance of total focus is magnified by the fact that the Panthers have one less day than usual – and one less day than the Dolphins – to prepare for this week's game.
"I don't know about everybody else, but I love the short week," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "It's one less day of practice and quicker to the game."
Rivera doesn't share that view. Still less than 48 hours removed from the victory over the Patriots, the Panthers went through a comparatively light workout Wednesday.
"I like a nice, normal week where you get seven normal days," Rivera said. "It's hard. Today, we're not going through a full practice because the guys are sore. A great example is Thomas Davis. TD is walking around very gingerly right now.
"The offensive linemen, linebackers, defensive linemen are really sore. Receivers might not be as sore. A lot of it depends on position as much as anything else."
LaFell is confident it will all work out in the end. It did the last time around when the Panthers survived a physical battle versus the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 and bounced back to win at Tampa Bay four days later on Thursday Night Football.
"Everybody knows how to take care of their bodies," LaFell said. "We'll be ready for Sunday."
INJURY UPDATES: An MRI on Tuesday confirmed the initial diagnosis of a sprained knee for defensive end Charles Johnson.
"We are very fortunate," Rivera said. "He sprained it. He was relieved, he really was."
Rivera said Johnson is very sore, and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn, who missed Monday's game with a foot injury, visited the doctor on Wednesday. Rivera said he's comfortable moving forward with rookie A.J. Klein at weakside linebacker while the team waits for Blackburn to fully recover.
"Knowing A.J. has done what he's done and bringing Dan Connor in, we are going to wait to make sure," Rivera said.
Rivera also provided updates on right guard Chris Scott (knee) and tight end Ben Hartsock (knee).
"Chris is rehabbing, doing the things that he needs to do. He's had a couple extra days since we played on Monday night. He's been around the trainers more so than he normally would.
"I talked to Ben on Monday morning, and he really felt like he's gotten over the hump. We're excited about that. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he'll be ready."
Senior writer Bryan Strickland and staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.