The Rivera Report: Panthers still learning and growing at midway point


The status of the secondary

For the most part, the Panthers made it out of Sunday's game against the Titans pretty healthy, but late in the fourth quarter, cornerback James Bradberry left the game with a groin injury and didn't return.

"A couple of guys were nicked up, bumped up, probably the most concerning one right now is James Bradberry with the groin," Rivera said. "We'll see how it is when I get the chance to talk with (head athletic trainer) RV."

With a matchup against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers looming, the Panthers' secondary will need to be at its best. Luckily for the Panthers, a number of defensive backs, like cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and Javien Elliott, have seen significant playing time already this year, giving Rivera plenty of faith in the unit.

"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Ross, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Javien Elliott," Rivera said. "Both of those guys have started games for us, Javien as our nickel, Ross as our corner, and we've won games with those guys in those positions, so I would have no issue with that. I feel very confident in what they have given us."

More rest for CMC?

After sprinting 58 yards for his third touchdown of the day, running back Christian McCaffrey was taken into the medical tent on the sideline for the first time in his career.

The star running back came down hard in the end zone leading to him being evaluated for a concussion. McCaffrey was cleared, but with a 16-point lead, Rivera decided to hold McCaffrey out for the game's final four minutes.

"That was an abundance of precaution," Rivera said. "The upstairs guy called in, they took him in just to double check to make sure with the league, and based on what they told me I said, 'You know what? Let's just be smart, guys.'"

Rarely have we seen McCaffrey on the sideline instead of the field, but Rivera said offensive coordinator Norv Turner is working on different options to help reduce the wear and tear on McCaffrey.

"I know Norv has looked at some things and creating some other packages, some packages where he has both backs in there," Rivera said. "Again, those are just things that we can do to try and take the burden off of him in terms of rep count. As Norv said, you really don't want to take the ball out of his hands, as much as you want to limit other things he has to do."

Early thoughts on facing the Packers

The Panthers bounced back from a tough loss at San Francisco with Sunday's victory over Tennessee, and next week they'll face another big test in Green Bay.

After starting the year 7-1, the Packers suffered their second loss of the season against the Chargers on Sunday. On the one hand, the Chargers gave the Panthers another formula for how to defeat the Packers, but on the other, a humbling loss could serve as extra motivation for the Packers to rebound against the Panthers.

"I don't know their team well enough, as far as their personality to see how they're going to react," Rivera said. "I do like the way they're portraying it, that it was a humbling experience, because we went through the same thing last week."

Rivera may not know the full Packers team well enough to anticipate how they'll react to the loss, but no one would ever dare underestimate a quarterback as skilled as Aaron Rodgers.

"He's going to come out and play. He'll play very well," Rivera said. "No matter how we look at it, we believe we're going to get their best. They just got beat, so obviously they've got to come out and give their best, so we've got to prepare for that."

Mid-season reflection

The Panthers are now officially halfway through the season, and they've come out of the first eight games with a 5-3 record. There have been plenty of surprises, like Kyle Allen's success in place of Cam Newton, left tackle Dennis Daley's impact on the O-line, or the fact the team was able to bounce back from back-to-back losses to open the season.

Through all the highs and lows of the first eight weeks, Rivera said he has yet to see his team play a complete game in all three phases.

"I think we're still growing and learning," Rivera said. "Again, you look at the games we've won, and I've come away saying, 'We could have done this better, that better.' Never really felt like we've played a game where you can sit there and say, 'Oh, you know, that grades out as a very, very high grade.'

"Now, that grades out as a good grade, but these are things that we have to clean up. You have a list of those things and you know you're progressing in the right direction."

As much as Rivera has seen his team grow, he knows there are plenty of places the Panthers can still improve.

"That's one of the things you have to be careful with, you haven't arrived," Rivera said. "The only time you've arrived is at the end of the year when you're the one holding up the trophy."

View all of the best photos from the field, locker room, sideline and postgame from Carolina's home win over Tennessee.