NASHVILLE – Like he did when speaking to his team following their 34-27 preseason loss to the Titans, head coach Ron Rivera stood at the podium and repeated one theme over and over.
"We have to be a physical football team if we want to give ourselves an opportunity to win games," Rivera said at his postgame press conference.
But Rivera took a few minutes Saturday at Nissan Stadium to remind everyone listening that the Panthers must be able to control a game at the line of scrimmage if they want to return to the winnings ways of 2015.
"If we can be physical in nature up front, and dictate to the defense…," Rivera said, "it should open up some other things for us."
By and large, Rivera didn't see enough physicality on display against Tennessee, although Carolina finished with 167 rushing yards (only 48 of which came from the starters in the first half). But there was one seemingly routine play – a 3-yard gain – that got Rivera's attention. And, as he explained, led to bigger gains.
"To me, and you guys probably didn't notice it, but one of the really good plays in this game was a 3-yard run by Jonathan Stewart," Rivera said. "It was physical football. We had great surge, great push and Jonathan ran hard inside to pick up (three) yards."
Immediately following Stewart's hard-earned three yards, McCaffrey gained 13 yards up the middle and quarterback Derek Anderson connected with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for 11.
On the next play, McCaffrey exploded through an opening around the right side for a 17-yard touchdown.
"That, to me, is what we've got to get back to," Rivera said. "We have to get back to playing physical football."
Last year, the Panthers ' franchise-record 35-game streak of 100-plus yards was snapped in a Week 4 loss to the Falcons, and Rivera didn't hide his disappointment.
"I'm crushed by that, too," he said at the time. "Because I think it's important. I think it's something that we have to make sure we stay on top of."
Being able to pound the ball has become a hallmark of a successful offense for Rivera's Panthers. And after that physical edge faded during a 6-10 season, he won't let anyone forget it.
View photos from Carolina's preseason game at Tennessee.