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The Day After: Matt Rhule still sees fight


CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is aware that no one wants to hear it right now.

But when he went back and looked at the tape of Sunday's loss to the Saints — their sixth straight loss and 11th in the last 13 games — he saw signs that his team hadn't given up.

Of course, an effort is only one part of the equation, as the results have not followed. The Panthers gave up seven sacks and gained just 178 yards in New Orleans, the latest in a string of offensive shortfalls.

"I'm not a moral victory guy, but in a week where COVID, and obviously we're not going to the playoffs, and people are asking about dissension in the locker room, ..." Rhule said Monday. "You have guys like Shaq Thompson playing in his seventh year. What incentive does Shaq have to come back early and play in that game? Brian Burns is a Pro Bowler; what incentive does Burns have? You can say whatever, the offense, that was a team yesterday, anyone could see they played really hard and they played as a team and had tremendous energy and fought. The defense, we couldn't quite punt the ball across the 50, our punting game, we were kind of backed up. I thought our defense time and time and time again came out there. I thought offensively those guys battled to the end. So I just want to make sure, from my perspective, anyone who watched the game would say they really played hard, and a lot of guys laid it on the line.

"You get to this point in the season, and you have a team that plays that hard, that means you have a good locker room, you have good guys. We have really good guys. They competed, and they were heartbroken at the end of that game. I could tell you. They felt like they had a chance to win it; they're in it to win it, they battled to win it, and at the end, we lost it in the fourth quarter, and we weren't able to get it done. I think that's the emotion, as much as anything, is just disappointment and frustration. But as I told them, they should feel frustrated; we should never accept losing. I certainly appreciated the physicality and the effort. I see guys limping to the sidelines and then going right back out there. This is a tough collection of guys."

He specifically mentioned the play of the defensive front, saying Derrick Brown was "fantastic," and that Frankie Luvu "jumped off the tape" as he replaced Haason Reddick (who remains on the COVID-19 list).

— Rhule said he anticipated operating the same way at quarterback for this week's finale, with Sam Darnold starting and Cam Newton available for spot duty and red zone work.

Newton came in for one play Sunday, and had a 5-yard rush.

— Rhule referenced getting a couple of players back from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, saying he saw center Sam Tecklenburg and defensive end Darryl Johnson. They were activated from the list, and center Matt Paradis (who remains on injured reserve) was also cleared. That leaves seven players on reserve/COVID-19.

Rhule also said he wasn't sure whether cornerback Stephon Gilmore would return this week.

He said he trusts Gilmore to have the best gauge on his own condition, and that there was no need to put him on injured reserve at the moment because they have plenty of roster spots available because of the COVID-19 outbreak. He said if Gilmore wasn't practicing by Thursday, it's a reasonable indication that he won't play this week.

— While Rhule is also aware that their offensive line is not an ideal situation right now, he acknowledged that it wouldn't be until they "make a true investment" in the line.

They've used 12 unique combinations of starting offensive lines this year, which includes 10 different players.

Only Taylor Moton has started all 16 games so far (and he swapped sides for one), and no other player has started more than 10.

Rhule said that he planned to talk to offensive line coach Pat Meyer this week, to see about getting rookie Deonte Brown some time. Brown has appeared in two games this year, but has taken just one offensive snap.

View in-game photos from the Superdome during Carolina's Week 17 game at New Orleans.

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