PHILADELPHIA – The Carolina Panthers didn't play their best football when it mattered most Thursday night, but they plan to use the experience to put them in position to play their best when it really matters.
"Sometimes you can make too much of a preseason game," tight end Greg Olsen said following the Panthers' 14-9 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles. "It is a big deal anytime you take the field – you want to play well, you want to win. But at the same time, it is a learning experience against teams you haven't really been game-planning for.
"This is the time that you want to find out what your weaknesses are so you can correct them. That's what the preseason is all about."
In Carolina's second game of the preseason, the Panthers' starting units played the large majority of the first half. The offense moved the ball effectively but stalled short of the end zone ("Three-for-three field goals is good for your kicker but bad for the offense," Olsen said). The defense came up with a trio of first-half turnovers but only after struggling to slow the Eagles' fast-break offense, which found the end zone twice before halftime.
"I like that we had the fight in us to get the turnovers," safety Mike Mitchell said, "but we've got to get better on first and second down to put us in advantageous situations on third down – third-and-long where our D-line can really get after the quarterback.
"We've just got to keep improving. This is the second preseason game."
Mitchell said Thursday's game will help the defense learn to deal with adversity and will help keep the unit focused in the practices to come. Olsen said the game revealed some weaknesses but did so at a good time, giving the Panthers time to do something about it before the September 8 opener.
Head coach Ron Rivera said it all comes down to taking care of the details, always a challenge in mid-August with all the moving parts in play.
The Panthers have time on their side.
"There are a lot of little details that we messed up on," Rivera said. "Listening to the coaches on the headsets talking about somebody being out of position, somebody not running the right route, somebody missing a block, somebody out of alignment - there are some issues we need to get corrected, and we will get them corrected.
"I am very pleased with a lot of things that did go on. I'm just disappointed because we had opportunities to put more points on the board."
In some ways, preseason games are practices on a grand scale. Coaches do some game-planning to give the players they're evaluating a fair chance to showcase what they can do for the team come the regular season, and winning is important for the sake of building a winning mentality.
But at the end of the day, the real score isn't the one on the scoreboard.
"It's about what we're trying to do. That's what these games are all about," Olsen said. "When you get in game situations, the little stuff gets magnified – whether it's finishing a block or finishing a route. Sometimes things you can get away with in practice just because it's not live can get magnified in the game, especially when you're playing against a team that you're not that familiar with.
"You've got to be even more dialed into your responsibilities and what you're being coached to do. At times it got away from us a little bit as far as the little things. Those things all add up."
Thursday, they added up to a loss. In the days to come, the Panthers plan to turn them into a gain.