CHARLOTTE — Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks came right out of the chute during his Monday press conference with an appeal to fans to fill Bank of America Stadium this weekend.
"Definitely want to talk to our fans, who I feel like are the best fans in NFL football," Wilks said. "Definitely want those guys to come out and support this football team in high fashion. And to keep those Steelers fans out of the Bank of America Stadium. . . .
"It's not just words, wasted words on my part. I truly believe that we have the greatest fans in NFL football. You know, I've been around here. I've been in that stadium when you couldn't even hear yourself talk because it was so loud. You know, the success we had here in the past. So I am asking, and you know, for our fans to show up en masse this week. So we can have that same atmosphere when we play the Pittsburgh Steelers."
While Steelers fans are often very present and visible during road games in many locales, the high number of transplants in this area has made them even more visible in the past.
But Wilks referred to a few particular games during his first stint here, including the 2015 NFC Championship Game against Arizona and a 2013 game against the Saints (when they clinched a playoff berth).
"I think we had all three seasons in one game, to where it rained and felt like it was going to snow a little bit, and then the sun came out later," Wilks said. "But the crowd was phenomenal. And then I go back to the 2015 NFC Championship game against Arizona. You know, it's always been some different games, but those two stand out for sure."
Now, he wants more of the same.
— Wilks said quarterback Sam Darnold fulfilled the first responsibility of his job during Sunday's win over the Seahawks by not turning the ball over, but he did mention there were times when he'd have been fine with Darnold running more.
On the four plays from inside the Seahawks' 3-yard line, which yielded no points, Wilks said two were RPOs which Darnold chose to pass from. That's a natural instinct for guys trained to pass the ball, but Wilks said he wants to emphasize that Darnold takes what's there either way.
"But you know, we need to show him and let him understand when there's opportunities right there to be able to open up and run and go get the first down and get positive yardage, we need to do that," Wilks said.
— Panthers kicker Eddy Piñeiro had a couple of high-profile misses this year, but the important part is they were nearly his only misses.
Piñeiro was perfect on three field goals and all three extra points in Sunday's win at Seattle and is now 25-of-27 on field goals this season and 21-of-23 on extra points. On the whole, that overshadows the two missed kicks in the loss at Atlanta.
His 92.6 percent mark on field goals is second in the league among regular kickers. That's far more than they could have anticipated when signing a replacement just before the start of the regular season when Zane Gonzalez was lost for the year to a preseason groin injury.
Wilks said he also appreciated the way teammates rallied around Piñeiro (as they have with him), creating a supportive atmosphere. Making kicks helps, but Wilks has tried to be straightforward with the players while also encouraging them.
"I'm proud of the way he's bounced back and the consistency that he's operating under right now," Wilks said. "As a teacher, I think a teacher understands that all students are different. And they may learn in different paces and whatnot, and they may have different struggles, but how are you going to help those individuals through that process? And that's our job as coaches; that's our job as teachers. And again, it's just always been honest and upfront; I praise them when they do well and really try to correct them when they need to be corrected. So, Eddy did not, weeks ago, didn't lose that game, as many people tried to allude to. You know, we had plenty of opportunity to do that. So I'm going to embrace it and put my arm around him and let him know that we still believe. Me and you, and hit the reset button. Let's go play, and you've seen that over the weeks. He's been consistent, so I like where he is right now."
— Defensive end Brian Burns admitted he was something other than 100 percent last night but was able to come up with half a sack at a key time anyway. So Wilks said even if he's not at full speed, he's still valuable.
"To be quite honest, I would take him at less speed, and the things that he's able to do on that football field like he did yesterday," Wilks said. "I know with his caliber of play and the perception that a lot of people have of him, when he doesn't have the sacks and what many can see the splash plays, they think it's not a good game. But he did a lot of critical things yesterday, setting the edge on that outside zone toss play, really stringing in the running back out, and allowing other guys to get over the top. So I can sit here and point out several things that he did as what I consider to be factors and making the play. So I will take him again at the lesser speed."
Wilks also said he hopes safety Xavier Woods could be available this week. The veteran of that group was inactive Sunday after practicing on a limited basis last week, and Wilks said that after trying it in practice, Woods wasn't comfortable, so he didn't want to push him.
View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.