On building another playoff team: "As I've said a number of times, Marty left some good pieces obviously. (We've improved) through the draft and we've made some very judicious signings in free agency. We had the cap issue at first and we're working through that. We've been able to extend guys that we feel are the core – Cam (Newton), Luke (Kuechly), Greg (Olsen) and TD (Thomas Davis). You've always got work to do, but I think we've used every avenue available to us."
On if he thought going 15-1 was possible: "Really and truly, I've got to be honest – no. There's only been seven teams that have been 15-1. There have been only two that have gone undefeated, and one was in a 14-game season. Did I envision this? No. Did I envision us playing well? I spoke to you guys before the season started and I felt this was our strongest roster ever. But 15-1? Who expects that, because it's so stinking hard to win games in this league. What Ron and his staff and the players have accomplished is special. We're excited to continue."
On quarterback Cam Newton's MVP caliber season: "He's fulfilled everything we thought he could be. He's just had a great year. The franchise quarterbacks make everybody better. That's what they do. He's made his team better through his leadership, through his play and who he is as a person. I'm surely very excited that we were able to get that contract done."
On the Panthers' playoff outlook: "Obviously, when you are rolling along, you say to yourself, 'How far can we really go? Are we built for the long run?' What I really like about this team is the balance that we have. There isn't any positon group that you say, 'Oh gosh, this team could take advantage of that group.' This is a matchup game. The NFL is a matchup game – don't let anybody tell you any different. It's one of those situations where I really like our balance. I've felt really good about it all year long. The guys we've had come off the bench and have had to play have shown that they are quality NFL players. The biggest thing is the balance that we have."
On if any one moment in the season galvanized the team: "That's a hard question. Josh's (Norman) pick in the end zone against the Saints, coming from behind in overtime against Indy, Cam in the fourth quarter of the second Saints game and the determination he showed against the Giants. And then the way we bounced back after the Atlanta loss. I don't think you could say this one thing did it. I've said this before to a number of people: football is the truest of all team games. Ten guys do the right thing, one guy does the wrong thing and it could mean six points either way. I just think it has been a culmination of a lot of work. We have a team. We have a true team."
On continuity leading to success: "The Steelers, the Giants, they've proven what continuity does. I haven't had one moment where I regretted anything. Working with Ron (Rivera) has been just a joy. We communicate, and the continuity is huge. There are so many moving parts to what we are doing that when you constantly intersperse more moving parts, it just doesn't work."
On if there is any concern about the pass rush from the edge rushers: "Here's what I'll say to that: every game is different. Just look at last Sunday. We had two sacks – one was KK (Kawann Short) and one was Kyle Love. The biggest thing was we kept moving him off the spot. Do we want to get home? Sure. But the biggest thing is the disruption involved. Our front four has consistently disrupted the other quarterback. The bottom line is we are (sixth) in sacks this year – we have 44. But it's the game within the game. If you move them off their spot, you are affecting the play. Our sack production is better than last year's. Not quite as good as it was in '13, but you're not going to have too many 60-sack years, let's be honest. What's the quarterback rating against us right now? Something like 65? That's pretty damn good now."
On cornerback Josh Norman's performance: "Josh has had a great year, I am not going to deny that. He's been great for us. And we love him. But you know I don't talk about contracts."
On if anything less than the Super Bowl will be disappointing: "You know how hard 15-1 is? That is so flipping hard. As I said earlier, I love our balance as a team. I love where we are mentally, and physically we are pretty darn healthy. Obviously, we lost Charles (Tillman), which hurts. But we are very confident in Robert (McClain). I love our attitude and our approach to the game, and I love having as good a coaching staff as there is in the league."
On interest from other teams about interviewing Panthers coordinators for head coaching jobs: "I've had phone conversations, but Cleveland is the only one to formally make the request."
On the collective effort empoyed by the Panthers' front office: "Marty (Hurney) left us with some really good building blocks. (Assistant general manager) Brandon Beane and (director of team administration) Rob Rodgers have just been terrific. (Director of pro scouting) Mark Koncz and his staff on the pro side and (director of college scouting) Don Gregory and his staff on the college side have all done a great job. I walked in the door, and I didn't know very many of these guys. We changed some things philosophically, they bought in. Marty put together a great group, and I've been blessed with it. We have great chemistry. It's truly a group effort. I'm very very fortunate."
On his biggest personnel move this year: "Probably Michael (Oher). I know everybody killed me on that one. One of the things that you have to understand is that you can't always go from A to Z. Sometimes when you're evaluating your players and you're looking at them, sometimes you can only increase incrementally. Michael has been a huge boost to us. He's settled it down. You guys have been around Cam his whole career, and you see the confidence he has when he sets up behind those five hog mollies. It's a sight to behold. Michael has been huge."
On his confidence in retooled secondary: "Cortland (Finnegan) has done a heck of a job. He's gotten better. Cortland didn't go to camp with anybody, but he's a nine-year vet who has played at a very high level. So we worked him in, and he's getting better every week. He really had a good game against Tampa. As far as Robert (McClain) is concerned, he has bounced around a little bit. He was in camp with New England, and we liked what saw. You guys know that we brought him in at the same time we brought in Cortland, but we just felt that Cortland had a better skill set for what we were looking for at that time. But you've seen what Robert has done, and as long as our front keeps pushing those quarterbacks around, I have great confidence."
On development of rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess: "When you've drafted juniors, obviously they're not going to be as polished. I have great confidence in (wide receivers coach) Ricky Proehl. That Michigan situation was a mess. Those guys were walking around knowing (former Michigan coach) Brady (Hoke) was a dead man walking. That's not to disparage Brady Hoke – he's a hell of a coach – but it just wasn't working. So he (Devin) has really come on. The hardest thing for a wide receiver to understand is how physical the game is up here, because you've got to think about it: How much man coverage do you see on the college level? If you see it, it's like you've got to write it down and go to a notary public to prove that it was there. So that's a big adjustment for receivers – I don't care who they are. They haven't seen that kind of physical play. It's like against the Giants, there was one snap where Josh pressed (Odell) Beckham, (Jr.) at the line of scrimmage. He hit him as soon as the ball was snapped, and he hit Beckham right on his fanny. You think that ever happened at LSU? That's a big part of it, and Devin has just worked and worked and worked. Sunday showed the fruits of his labor."
On the Norman-Beckham feud: "I don't want to go there. It's over. It happened. I went through the tape, and in that situation our guys handled themselves well."
On his methodical approach to team building: "I'm a methodical person by nature. The biggest thing you have to do is you have to evaluate your own team, and you can't do it with your heart. You have to do it with your head and your experience. Once you get through your evaluations, then you're going to make your decisions. They're hard. Someone just asked me what's the hardest thing I have to do in my job? The hardest thing I have to do is look at a guy and tell him it's time to go home. That's hard. But you have to be honest with your evaluations. You have to be thorough. If I told you how much film that I watched on Michael Oher, you'd fall down. But that's what it's all about – being thorough and methodical. People want you to make splashes and go sign this guy, go sign that guy. When Kelvin (Benjamin) went down, people wanted me to sign every 95-year-old wide receiver that ever put a pad on. The bottom line is, you have to trust in your evaluation. As long as you're thorough, you'll be fine. Will you make a mistake? Everybody makes mistakes."
On how much film of Michael Oher he watched: "I watched all of his '14 tape, eight games of '13 and 12 games of '12 when he played left tackle for Baltimore who went to the Super Bowl. That takes a while."
On how the team bounced back after wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down: "The narrative that begins in the summer or starts in the spring – Panthers were lucky to go 7-8-1, they're in a crappy division, they played Arizona (in the playoffs) who had their third-string quarterback out there. Go to Seattle (in NFC Divisional Playoffs) and play them tough and get no credit for it and then believing that we had the best roster we'd had since I'd been here and having faith in our evaluation process and the players we have and our coaches. Was I concerned? I'd have to be a moron not to be concerned when Kelvin went down. But again, we believed in these guys. I know Philly (Brown) struggled during the preseason, and that was a major concern. But they all kept working and kept getting better and better and Cam has had a great year."
On how close the team is to getting out from under salary cap concerns: "We're real close. What's happening now is you do a good job of bringing players in and then, 'How do I keep this guy? How do I keep that guy?' We actually met yesterday off and on for three or four hours. You get a headache and you get frustrated, but we'll work through it. We'll be OK."
On defensive tackle Kawann Short's season: "Alright, I want everybody in here to raise their hand who laughed when we took defensive tackles back to back. We had a first-round grade on KK. We had Star rated above him, and I was convinced that Star would not be there in the second round. KK has done what we thought he was capable of. He's a legitimate three-down defensive tackle, and we're thrilled to have him."