FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – I could make excuses for the Panthers' play in Friday night's preseason game at the New England Patriots, but they'd rather I not.
"I don't want to use excuses," head coach Ron Rivera said following Carolina's 30-7 loss. "We practiced. We had a good game plan. We had a good couple of days of practice.
"You'd like to think we would come out and be a little more consistent. That's the word – consistent. We weren't consistent, and that's disappointing. If we expect to be a playoff team, we need to be consistent."
Make no mistake, the Panthers plan to be a playoff team. While they didn't look like one Friday, several factors were working against them.
About 48 hours after the Panthers got back to work following Sunday's impressive victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, they boarded a plane for their first road game of 2014. They had a little time to recover physically and a little time to prepare mentally for one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
While the Panthers treated the Chiefs game as their dress rehearsal because of those circumstances, the Patriots treated the Panthers game as their dress rehearsal.
"You can make those excuses, but you're going to have those weeks during the season," center Ryan Kalil said. "We'll have Thursday night games and Monday night games during the season, and this was a great opportunity for us to learn how to work during a short week and come out and execute.
"You've got to be able to handle the different weeks and be consistent with how you prepare and how you play."
Kalil said the effort on offense "just wasn't good enough," but the challenge was made greater by the absence of the projected starters to Kalil's right – guard Trai Turner and tackle Nate Chandler – and the fact that quarterback Cam Newton isn't yet fully up to speed.
But whatever the reasons for the showing, the Panthers know they have to be better.
The silver lining is this: The Panthers are better.
"It was a bad night," tight end Greg Olsen said. "I don't think it was indicative of the offense that we're going to be for the entire season at all. Last week against Kansas City we showed we have the ability to move the ball and finish drives."
On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Colin Cole echoed essentially the same sentiment.
"It just wasn't a good enough effort on our behalf tonight," Cole said. "That's not us. Now we've got to fight to get back and get it together."
No professional athlete ever wants to play anything other than their best, but sometimes it just happens. It happens in regular season games. It happens in the Super Bowl.
Fortunately for the Panthers, it happened in August.
"That's why we've got preseason," rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.