CHARLOTTE – Every victory is the NFL is earned, but not every victory is equal.
Yes, they all count the same in the standings, but they don't all say the same thing about what might happen in the standings going forward.
Following Carolina's victory at the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, head coach Ron Rivera opted against giving his players Monday off. But following Sunday's victory over the Houston Texans in Week 2, Rivera rewarded his players with "Victory Monday."
"Every victory is satisfying, but the truth of the matter is that when you win, you want to make sure you win doing the things that you need to do and not having the feeling like last week," Rivera said. "I felt like against Jacksonville, we had some more opportunities and some things we should have done better. Now we have a victory that I'm very pleased with.
"Sure, we missed a couple of things, but to me this was the type of team victory I had talked about all week – every component of the team stepping up and doing what they needed to do."
The defense, playing the entire game without linebacker Luke Kuechly, continued to get the job done much like it did in the second half of the opener minus Kuechly. The offense was balanced and more opportunistic than in the opener, and the special teams units made a positive impact in terms of the field position battle.
It all added up to a 24-17 victory, one that improved the Panthers to 2-0 on the young season.
Much like the notion that all victories aren't the same, the same can be said about the relative value of 2-0 starts.
Some are questioning whether the Panthers' record is even noteworthy given who they've beaten – a team in Jacksonville that went 3-13 last season and a Houston team struggling for answers at quarterback. Well, the Jaguars didn't look like a 3-13 team while knocking off Miami on Sunday, and the Texans went 9-7 last season despite struggling at quarterback.
Besides, in one of the most parity-filled starts to the season in recent memory, what teams would the Panthers have had to beat to qualify for an impressive start in the minds of naysayers? Of the 10 games won so far by the five NFC teams off to 2-0 starts, just one came against a team that reached the playoffs last season (Green Bay over Seattle on Sunday Night Football).
Others are quick to question the 2-0 start because they remember last season, when the Panthers also started 2-0. Carolina followed by winning just two of its next nine games before recovering to win the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record.
"We were also beat up a lot more, and we were a younger team," Rivera said. "There were a lot of reasons."
Last year after improving to 2-0, the Panthers lost defensive end Greg Hardy for an indeterminate amount of time and struggled to deal with it. They also faced the reality that quarterback Cam Newton, though back in the lineup, would be limited for quite a while coming off ankle surgery as well as a rib injury that had sidelined him in Week 1.
This year, the Panthers are 2-0 with Kuechly having played less than two quarters and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei having not played at all – but with both seemingly poised to return. As for Newton, he's as healthy as he's been in a long time.
That's not to say it will all be smooth sailing for the Panthers the rest of the way. Rivera also gave his players Monday off so they could rest up after the longest non-overtime game in franchise history – three hours, 39 minutes – and because he knows it will be a long season literally and figuratively.
The bottom line is no matter how you slice it, 2-0 is better than any alternative. Monday, Rivera wanted his players to enjoy what they've accomplished so far while reenergizing and refocusing on what they hope to accomplish down the line.
View top photos from Panthers vs. Texans by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.