PANTHERS HEAD COACH MATT RHULE
RE: Opening Statement
Just a couple of statements before we get started. Number one, I was very proud to wear the FDNY hat today. As a native New Yorker, I had lots of friends and people that I know, care and love be in some way impacted on 9/11. To stand there and honor and remember the first responders of New York, to remember people who ran towards the fire, not away from it, to remember all the lives that were lost, all the families that had to move on, especially specific to my family, remember Father Judge, a special man who gave comfort to my wife's family after they lost my wife's sister Cheryl in TWA 800. That meant a great deal to me and it was great to see the way the National Football League honored not just 9/11 but 9/12 today. With regard to the game, I'm very proud of our football team. We had a really hard camp. We worked really hard. To come into this game and not have any guys cramp, to have no injuries really going into the game, you know it was a testament to our players and to the people that work downstairs – our training room, the wellness people – you know I gave them all a game ball. I thought the strength staff; the medical staff has done an excellent job. Then obviously credit to the Jets. You can tell they are going to be a really good football team. They played hard. Zach Wilson I think you saw the special things that he is going to be able to do. It certainly wasn't perfect. We would have liked to put the game away and played better. But to get the onside kick and pop a run into a four-minute defense was gratifying for all of us. We will get better. We will get ready for next week. But that was my thoughts. But I'll just finally say it was great to play in front of the fans. It was great to walk off the field not having to hear Ed Foley sing Sweet Caroline in the locker room but hearing the fans sing it was wonderful and special. Thank you to them for the energy they gave us today.
RE: Being back in a winning locker room
It's what you do it for. If you do all this, you put all this work in, you take all this time to have that locker room, to have that moment together and be in the locker room and watch those guys celebrate and hug. All kinds of crazy things happen in the game but it's that moment, that celebration that is awesome. It was fun to be in there.
RE: Sam Darnold's performance today
I thought Sam played excellent. A dropped catch early on here, and he was wrong on a play – he threw it to the wrong place, but I thought he hung in at the pocket. We weren't great up front tonight but he hung in there, moved around and slid around in the pocket. He found guys down the field. Made key third down throws. Made key first down throws. Protected the football. We went into this game saying we were going to play field position. We felt like our defense was going to play well early. So, we were moving the ball but not quite getting the points. But just said let's play complimentary football. Let's pin them down. Let's get the ball pack, pin them and eventually we will crack through and we did. I thought Sam played well for his first game.
RE: Offense maintaining the defense's momentum
Yeah, we thought that was what it was going to take. We figured they would come out and try to run the football and have quick easy throws early. They did that. I thought really the tale of the game was the fact that our defense was able to stop the run so well and turn it into a drop back passing game. Then like I said, had some hard decisions to make. Had the ball on the 33-yard line and punted it instead of going for the field goal. That's a tough decision to make, I can tell you that. But it felt like the way our defense was playing I just wanted to try and pin them down. We had worked on what we felt like we would get them down inside the five, inside the 10. It didn't quite work out that way. We had a couple drives where we were able to pin them back and just playing off the defense. The defense made some big plays for us.
RE: Circumstances surrounding Sam Darnold fumble
I have to see the tape to see if [Giovanni] Ricci was too tight. Sam has to seat that ball a little tighter. Gio has to be a little wider. I think we are going to not just get the first down but walk in for a touchdown. We had it wired. Guys made great blocks. Who exactly it was, I would have to watch the tape to see. That's a play we run all the time and never had any issue on. Like everything else, little things here and there that have to be cleaned up to be a good team.
RE: Shaq Thompson
Shaq kind of has that rebirth in that number 7 going back to his college days. I thought he was all over the place. He sacked the quarterback, intercepted the football, went sideline to sideline in the run game. I thought he plated really well. He is a guy that can do a lot. He makes us right. He can cover backs out of the backfield. The guy splits out wide, he can cover him like a corner, which he did on the one play on the ball down the sideline he knocked away. I think Shaq played a great game.
RE: Offensive line
I have to watch the tape always with the offensive line. We had some struggles, kind of some whiffs on some pass pros. The deep play to Robby [Anderson], we whiffed up front and Christian McCaffrey blocked the defensive tackle himself. If that doesn't happen, that might have been Christian's best play of the day. But I think overall, we played well enough to win the game upfront. I thought especially on the fact that we were able to run the ball at the end of the game. If Christian was able to go down, that to me, is what good teams do. They run the ball at the end of the game to put games away. I feel like that group is going to get better and better and better. I think Dennis [Daley] needed to play this game and kind of get his feet underneath him. [Pat] Elflein came out of the game for a little bit. Dennis came out of the game for a little bit. Trent Scott went in and played. I'll watch the tape and probably have a better feel on Monday in terms of where we are at. But overall, I thought they were solid.
RE: Zach Wilson
He stood in the face of a lot of heat and made the throws down the field. We showed guys tapes of him from college pump faking and getting out to the right and really feel like we should have had two or three more sacks if we could have just kept him in and not let him get out to the edge. I think he sees the field well when he gets out of the pocket. He is going to move around. He is really tough. When Derrick [Brown] hit him on that one on the 25-yard line at the end of the game, I didn't think he was going to get up. Credit to him that he did. Happy he did. Took them down and scored a touchdown. When you have a guy like that, you sense his moxie and he is only going to get better and better and better.
RE: Sam Darnold
It's a good first step. It's a good first game. I think for him this was probably a real step forward. He was in the moment the whole game. I didn't have a lot of concerns. I was just anxious to see how he would be playing the Jets and that moment. He looked like he had fun the whole day. There was not a moment where I was like, 'hey, calm down, hang in there.' He was great. Coming into the game, I think I talked to Scott and I felt like he was the least of my concerns. I wasn't worried about Sam. He was locked in this whole week. I think he has played that well. I think people will just have to wait and see how he plays as we move forward. My job is to help him play well. Not to see if he plays well right, so we will come back on Monday and Tuesday and continue to work with him. As I said before, he is the kind of guy you want to succeed. When you have those types of guys in the building things are good.
RE: Sam Darnold's reaction to playing the Jets
I didn't speak too much about it. My way sometimes is kind of teasing like, 'Hey, are you going to be all emotional before the game.' He was making fun of me before the game. He said you're saying hi to more people than I am because of a couple guys I knew. I think Sam is resilient. I really, honestly, this whole week he has been so locked in. I didn't have a question. I think he was ready to go all week. Played like it and just kind of hung in there. I we are that kind of team right now. We just kind of hang in there until we make a big play. I think we will just have to build off of it with him. But I like his demeanor.
RE: Linebacker jersey number changes
I think those guys came to me Monday or last week and Shaq was like, 'hey, I'm serious about this, I want to change my number.' I told them both I'm good with it. If you change your number there is sometimes some financial things that the guys have to take care of. So, I said talk to [equipment manager] Donnie [Toner]. There is just a process you have to go through with the league. I think one got approved on Wednesday and the other got approved on Friday. There is no rule about when you tell that so I didn't see a reason to go announce it ahead of time. It wasn't like it happened two weeks ago or something. It was kind of late in the process so just announce it at the inactives. I figured pretty quickly they would figure out that Shaq was in 7 and Jermaine [Carter Jr.] was in 4. I was happy for Shaq. We put up some of his highlights of him in college in the building. Him, number 7 playing tailback. I think he is a guy who is going to have a great season. He has played a long time but he is feeling good about where he is and I'm anxious to see him take off.
RE: Strategy to facing a rookie quarterback
We tried to disguise everything. They did a good job. I don't think we fooled them. I think we were able to get there. I think we covered well. I think [defensive coordinator] Phil [Snow] made a decision early on that he was going to bring pressure. We blitzed. But then we got hung with some four-man rushes. They started to max pro so we lifted some four- man rushes and tried to cover. We trust our defensive ends to get there. At the end a couple times, like I said, we canned. [Jeremy] Chin came free on that last big play. Zach [Wilson] stood in there and made that huge throw. When you live by the blitz, there is always that risk/reward. But we got there enough but again, credit to the quarterback, he just kept coming back.
RE: Feelings heading into the first regular season
I was nervous but good nervous. Nervous in the terms of, I shouldn't say nervous, I was anxious. I love these guys on this team. They have worked so hard and I wanted to make sure I gave them all that I could. You know what I mean? I felt like we are a good team, we were going to play well. I just wanted to make sure I did my job and I gave them the best chance to succeed. I have to be honest with you, there were some ups, there were some downs but I really enjoyed being on the sideline with that team. They celebrated together. They hung in there together. I tell the guys all the time to embrace those feelings. That's why we do this. That's what makes us feel alive. That's why we are not going to sleep the next three days to get ready for our next game. We want to have that feeling of hey this matters on Sundays. I woke up today, I was up at 4. My eyes were wide awake. I was like, it's game day, finally. After this you kind of get in the rhythm of the season but this first one, you go through that whole long process to get here. But I'll say, I really like this team and I like the guys on this team and I wanted them to have success today.
RE: Christian McCaffrey
I think he did great. I don't know how many carries he had. I know he had some catches out of the backfield and finally that last run. We tell them first down, get down but just how unselfish he is. He just gets down right away. He gets the first down, he gets down and we win the game. I thought he looked great out there. We will continue to build off of what he did schematically and continue to improve. I think Christian is ready to have a great year.
RE: Ryan Santoso
Obviously, he missed the first extra point which was disappointing. I have to go back and look. The first thing I try to do is check the hold, check everything, make sure we didn't miss it. See why he missed that kick. But after that, I thought he made the kick that matter to go to a two-score game there. We will have to continue to evaluate, continue to improve, continue to work with him. I had no doubts about going back to him. I knew he would make the kick at the end that we needed.
RE: Having family in the stands for the first time
They were able to come last year. I'm looking at my wife, thinking please don't say the wrong thing. They were able to be here. The only thing is my daughters were not able to come down on the field. My daughters usually come on the field before the game and yell at me to do my job. Now they send me a video since they can't come down on the field. But more importantly, our players all had their families here and we had the fans here. I walked down from the JW Marriott today and it was cool to see fans and just see people excited about the game. Hopefully we delivered an exciting game. Now we will celebrate tonight and wake up tomorrow and get ready for New Orleans.
PANTHERS RUNNING BACK CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY
RE: Walk us through the pass block on the touchdown pass
We knew that we were going to take a shot there, just important for me to stay in and block. The o-line, they did a hell of a job all day, so it's my job if I see color in the A-gap or B-gap, especially on those shot plays, I have to help. You play good team football, it's the same way. Robby (Anderson) scores a touchdown, it's the same way, first play Robby throws a big block for me. So, it's just good complimentary football and that's what it's going to take to keep growing.
RE: What did you think was your best play?
I don't know, I will have to check the tape. Fired up about a win though, that's for sure. There is a lot of room to grow. I know offensively we have the guys who are going to come in tomorrow hungry to get better and I think that's the most important thing right now.
RE: Sam Darnold playing against his former team and what this meant to him
Absolutely, anytime you play against your old team, that's real. We were fired up and he led us the whole game. Like you said, he is poised, he just shows up and does his job. Fired up that he is our quarterback.
RE: Capitalizing on those big moments from the defense
That's what it is about. There are going to be highs and there are going to be lows, but we just have to focus on the next play, do better job in the redzone obviously. When defense gets a stop we have to do a better job for those guys who are working extremely hard, to go out there and put points on the board, not field goals but touchdowns.
RE: How would you describe your lead up to the season?
We practice really physical. We had two joint practices that were pretty physical as well. I think it's important for me to have a little contact for the season just to get used to it. I think we did a good job of that. Then just our recovery staff and everybody on board there does such a good job of keeping us all healthy. It's just about taking it one day at a time and doing everything you can to get better.
RE: How did it feel being back out there for the first time in a while?
It was amazing. It felt awesome just to be back out there with the guys, to get a win, it's been a long time. Fired up and ready move on to the next one, but we will celebrate this one right now.
RE: On your last carry to seal the game, can you describe what you did there?
We knew that if we could get a first down there, we were just going to kneel it. So, it was important to not run out of bounds, keep the clock going so we could get into victory formation.
RE: Sam Darnold
I think Sam, I've never seen him different and I think that's the biggest thing for us that we see. Since OTAs he's been the same guy. He comes to work every day, he is the first one in, last one out guy. That is the kind of guy you want leading your team. We are just lucky to have him. I know right now he is going to go back to the drawing board too and get ready for this next week.
RE: How much time do you work on blocking and the satisfaction you get out of that?
Football is the biggest team game in the world, I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. Those are the fun plays you know because those are the plays that are fun for the guys because we all see the work that…it's the same thing as DJ (Moore) or Robby (Anderson), one of these guys throwing a touchdown block in the end. Same way you get an offensive tackle who is leading up in the safety and you have a fullback, you have so many guys who never get recognized. We work as one unit, 11 guys that is the most important thing. I think that football is the biggest team sport that gets a lot of individual attention but you can't have one without the other.
RE: Are you prepared to touch the ball 30 times a game through 17 games this year?
Yeah, ready to roll.
RE: Were there first day of school vibes?
I just try to be the same guy every day. I think that is the biggest thing. Treat everyday with a sense of gratitude. Any time you can step on the field, whether its practice or a game, you can't take it for granted. I think that's the biggest thing, practice really hard, practice like it's a game so that when game day comes you feel prepared, you don't get too high and you don't get too low.
RE: Seeing mom here
It was awesome. I have a great family, I have been very fortunate. Any time one of them get to come to my games, I get really excited. I am always appreciative of them.
PANTHERS QUARTERBACK SAM DARNOLD
RE: Did it feel like just a game or did you want this one pretty badly?
You know, I'm not going to lie, seeing them on the other side, that was a little different for me. But other than that, once you throw that away, you kind of look at the scheme and our offense versus their defense, you kind of forget about it, in the middle of the game and while you're playing. We just, we tried to execute to the best of our ability and that was it.
RE: Now that it's over will you reflect it in that moment?
No, I'm sure later tonight, maybe tomorrow as I'm watching the game I'll start to feel that. It was just good to get a win. Again, like I said I feel we didn't execute, necessarily as well as we wanted to, especially when we got into the redzone. We just have to clean some things up there.
RE: Is there a sense of relief after this one?
It's just good to get our first win. Obviously its just one, but we have to keep working and move on to the next one after Monday. I think its good to feel this, especially with the fans back. Being able to get a win at home, it's huge and I feel like the fans had a huge part to do with it, to be honest.
RE: The quarterback draw and your options on that play and the ending with the fans.
I'm not going to talk you through the whole play but it was great, to be able to get into the endzone. It was a great play call by Joe (Brady). It was just a great plan to be able to get in the endzone and to celebrate with my teammates is always fun.
RE: Did you keep the ball?
Did I keep it? Yeah, I kept it.
RE: Did you and Robby Anderson have a nice laugh at Darnold to Robby Anderson against the Jets?
We really didn't think about it like that. It was just a connection, a good connection, for a touchdown, that was honestly it.
RE: Robby Anderson's Jets celebration
I didn't even see it, I didn't even notice it.
RE: What did you say to Zach Wilson after the game and what advice would you give to him moving forward?
I just told him to hang in there. I told him he is a really good player, you just have to take it one week at time. That's the biggest thing that I told him. As a rookie you have a lot of things flying at you in terms of offense and trying to dictate certain coverages and pressures that teams will bring. There is a lot for him right now, and again he just has to take it one week at a time.
RE: The cast around here in Carolina
I think we have a great cast. We have 22 (Christian McCaffrey) who is not a bad player. Then we have great guys on the outside, DJ (Moore), Robby (Anderson), Terrace Marshall, who I think is going to be a good player. Great tight ends, our offensive line did really well today. We have a really good cast, and I'm really excited about it.
RE: How good does it feel to cash in on a great defensive play?
It's great, it's complimentary football. We talk about it all the time, defense gets a great stop and you want to go out there and score points. It was great that way.
RE: The fumble and what do you have to clean up going into week two?
There is a lot for us to clean up, first of all. Second of all, the fumble, we have to look at the tape and see what happened there. That's just something that I have to be able to see to be able to have a good answer for you.
RE: What is satisfying to show what you are capable of today?
Again, like I said, I feel like as an offense we didn't capitalize as much as we should have in the redzone. I feel like we stalled out a couple of times and obviously the fumble, so we should have scored more points but whenever you can be efficient, just get completions and let your guys do what they do with the rock, that's always a good thing.
RE: Zach Wilson and how he performed and stood in the face of a lot of pressure today
I thought he did. I honestly didn't really see a ton of it. I thought our defense, they have some good scheme to be able to hide certain things. I thought he did a good job of standing in there when he could and delivering the football.
RE: What were you most pleased about your game today?
I think just the efficiency, besides the fumble in the redzone, but just being efficient with the football.
RE: Christian McCaffrey
He does a great job in pass protection. Obviously, he is very good in other ways, but he is very good in pass pro as well. He can do it all. He is always looking to get better every single day, that's why he is such a good leader for us, is because you recognize how good of a player he is, but the way he comes in every day you wouldn't think that.
RE: Any vindication to beating a team that traded you away?
No, not for me.
RE: Jordan Palmer
Jordan has been great, throughout, my time in college and now. He's always a key part in my offseason and sometimes even during the season. To be able to talk to him, whether I am going through adversity or whether I am having success, he is just a good person to talk and knows what he is talking about.
RE: How many out of town friends and family did you have today?
Basically, my whole family is here, besides my grandma and grandpa.
RE: Is that 20 or 25?
No, it's probably like 15 or 20.
RE: Did it feel like first day of school vibes?
Yeah, a little bit, that's a great way to put it. Just coming out here, first regular season game with fans again, it's a great feeling to be able to come out here and get that win at home. It's a really good feeling for us.
RE: Did you have any jitters?
A little bit. A little bit of jitters to start the game and then settled in.
_PANTHERS LB SHAQ THOMPSON _
Re: Change in number being the difference in his performance
It could have been. I just felt like myself. The coaches had a great game plan and me and JC [Jermaine Carter Jr.] and a couple of us were just studying our butts off. We knew in certain formations they like to run certain things and we just played technique. The seven, I definitely felt like myself. I wore seven in college, I'm 27, I'm going on my seventh year so I felt like it was a golden day.
Re: The benefit of getting his college number and being able to spring it on Zach Wilson before his first game
Yeah, not to say it like this but once seven was available in the back of my head I kinda just knew I wanted it. I have a respect for Will [Grier] and I didn't want to do it right away but we had to wait on the NFL. It took a couple of days to get changed and accepted, so that was the whole reason why.
Re: Thoughts on Zach Wilson's play
He's a guy that's going to get better. We had to show different disguises because he didn't see a whole lot during preseason. Everybody doesn't show a whole lot during preseason and we had to show different disguises, show different looks and stuff like that. I think he's going to be a great player. I think he's going to get better each and every game. He's a guy once he gets it down he'll probably be scary.
Re: His penalty and what he saw in the two-play sequence before his interception
A little hands to the face. Those big guys are always trying to bully us. I just put my hands up and that was on me, my fault. Before that there was a play that I should've made when they threw it to Corey Davis, then that next play hands to the face, whatever. Then the pick we were in the same defense and I just read the quarterback and I was able to put my hand on the ball.
PANTHERS DE BRIAN BURNS
RE: What was working for the defense?
We were really playing physical, aggressive, fast. We weren't thinking much, everybody was doing their jobs and that's pretty much how you can be a dominant defense.
RE: How did it feel to get that first sack out the way?
It was easy. It was cool.
RE: What was it like early in the game when the defense seemed dominant?
Honestly, it was a good feeling. We came out with the idea to be dominant, to be aggressive, to play fast. It was a great feeling and we were doing what we said we were going to do. For me to have that jump start, get going early - I think it was the first drive sack - it was a good feeling.
RE: Did you think that was the start of something special?
I definitely feel like once one person gets a sack, usually it gets contagious. Everybody starts getting sacks because the quarterback gets a little antsy in the pocket, looking at the rush more than what he should be looking at. I definitely felt like that was a spark to it.
RE: Did you like that so many guys got a sack today?
Yes. It's not putting all the pressure or attention on one person - that they can slide to or double team. Having that split between everybody that got sacks today, it's a great thing.
RE: What was the strategy going in on defense?
The strategy was to hit him a lot, be in his face a lot, disguise, try to confuse him. that was the basic strategy. Make his first game hell. That was pretty much what we had coming in.
View in-game action photos of Carolina's season opener against the Jets.