CHARLOTTE – There have been times this season when Panthers coach Matt Rhule has been very encouraged with what he was seeing from the team.
And there was plenty of stuff to correct coming out of Sunday's 20-0 win over the Lions.
But the thing he appears to have enjoyed the most is how the Panthers responded to their first embarrassing loss the week before against the Buccaneers by correcting the mistakes at a granular level and taking the appropriate approach.
"It's like going on a diet," Rhule said Monday. "Just because you say you're doing it doesn't mean you're doing it each and every day. That doesn't mean when nobody's around, you don't sneak in the pantry and get a cookie. It's a daily discipline and daily education when adversity comes. When you're having success, it's easy to say, 'Oh this works.' When you're struggling, when you're not winning, guys have a tendency to start looking for answers.
"What I liked about what the team did last week was, they came together. . . . I respect the team, and I respect the way they hung in there through a bunch of close losses, and then the Tampa Bay second half happened, and instead of falling apart, they came together this week and had their best week of preparation.
"You don't have success and then buy in. That's not how it works."
Rhule made note of all the attention linebacker Shaq Thompson got a week ago for his profane tirade after the Bucs loss, and said several other players also spoke up and spoke plainly.
"It was real honest," cornerback Rasul Douglas said. "At the end of the day, we're all men. We're all grown men. Some of us have kids, some of us don't, but we're all grown men. We expect each other to hold each other accountable. I know the team looks at each other and tells each other how it is. And we say it to each other's face, we don't hide anything here. That's how we feel. If we're going to say we're family, that that has to be what it is. And people lived up to it, people took it to heart, and said we've got to be better...
"You see the things we did last week and the mistakes we made last week, we didn't make them this week. That caused us to win."
While no team would volunteer to be blown out — especially in such a late collapse — Rhule did say he thought the response to the Buccaneers game was central to how they worked in advance of the Lions game.
"The unfortunate fact is sometimes you have to have losses for people to say 'Hey, we better hurry up and buy into this,'" Rhule said. "I thought the Buccaneers loss, which in my mind it wasn't as separate as the score, but it felt really bad at the end. We've been making progress. I thought we played really good football at times against the Chiefs, a good first half against Tampa, but I thought that feeling coming out of that game led to our best week of preparation and playing one snap at a time.
"When I say process, all I mean is prepare at a high level, play one snap at a time. I thought that showed up in the game."
THEY JUST DECIDED TO
The Panthers' struggles in the third quarter were well-documented, and Rhule said they came up with a simple way to combat them last week.
"I think we just spoke it into existence," he said with a bit of a laugh. "We just decided it wasn't going to be a problem anymore. Even at halftime, we said, 'OK, it's the third quarter, this is our quarter, let's go.' And then we made some plays and got there and scored.
"It was something that everyone resolved, we were going to get it fixed. We didn't do anything differently, we just did it better."
The Panthers outscored the Lions 10-0 in the third quarter, a quick implementation of Rhule's revolutionary plan.
Rhule said that since quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was medically cleared to play Sunday, he expects him to practice Wednesday as he recovers from his right knee injury.
From there, they'll be able to better determine Bridgewater's status for Sunday's game at Minnesota, though the fact he was so close last week suggests things are moving in the right direction.
Rhule was less specific when it came to running back Christian McCaffrey, still referring to him as "week-to-week" with his shoulder problem, and saying they'd see if he practices Wednesday.
In normal times, teams will often give players the day off after wins as a reward and some needed rest.
Since players have to report to the stadium every day for COVID-19 testing, the concept of "victory Monday" doesn't carry the same weight, but Rhule said he's tried to adapt his schedule over the course of the season.
"The process is never the schedule," he said. "If I think they need a day, I'll give them a day. We're not in that position right now. I think our Mondays are fair to the players; we meet and then we lift.
"I've changed the schedule up to give them time at different times. To me, process is a mindset of attacking every day. So if I think we need, and I'm not always right as the schedule-maker, but if we need five hours, go five hours and attack it. If we need two hours, just attack whatever's there."
View the best behind-the-scenes photos from Carolina's 20-0 win over Detroit in Week 11 at Bank of America Stadium.