More often than not, the first question asked of head coach Ron Rivera in his day-after-game press conference is what he saw from reviewing the film, and that was no different on this Monday.
What was different? That the time that he took with the media to review the Panthers' 42-28 victory over the Buccaneers might be equal to the time he'll take reviewing it with his players.
That's an exaggeration, but time is of the essence as on this Monday as Carolina can't expend much energy reflecting with a Thursday Night Football clash at the Steelers already bearing down.
"There were a lot of good things – some things we feel good about – but also some things we've got to correct," Rivera said. "We got in (to the building) early, typical for all of us as coaches, but we have to get through the game tape as quickly as possible to try to find mistakes and get them corrected when we get the chance to see our guys."
While game-planning on a short week is an obvious challenge, the mental Olympics required are made that much more difficult by the physical demands. Rivera delayed the typical Monday morning team meeting until 2 p.m. to give his players a little window of rest.
Recovering from the Tampa game while preparing for the Pittsburgh game is a tricky balancing act, though of course the Steelers face much the same challenge aside from getting to play at home Thursday coming off their 23-16 victory in Baltimore on Sunday.
Both coaching staffs know the drill, with Rivera and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin standing among the nine NFL coaches to be with their teams since 2011.
"We feel like we're in a good spot as far as moving forward," Rivera said.
With his team only about 48 hours away from hopping on a plane to Pittsburgh, time is of the essence for Rivera. Still, he took a moment to reflect on the Panthers' 6-2 start - Carolina's best record at the midway mark in the Rivera era aside from the 8-0 beginning in 2015.
"Good. Could have been better," Rivera said. "I think the first half really was kind of feeling our way. With three new coordinators and several new players in several key spots – i.e. the offensive line and the safety position with having Eric (Reid) coming in after the third game – there have been a little bit of growing pains. We're still feeling our way to a degree, but we are getting more and more comfortable with each other on the field."
The new pieces on offense that are creating the most buzz are new toys Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore at receiver. Samuel found the end zone twice against the Buccaneers and Moore made his latest in a run of notable yards-after-contact plays, but Rivera was quick to point out that the offense hasn't suddenly turned into a two-man band.
"We have a group of guys that are all contributing together, and we just happen to put two young guys out there that have a different skill set than the other ones, and it just adds a different dimension. But to think it's just all about those two would be crazy," he said. "But it's cool because they're learning and growing, and you know their ceiling is high. The potential for them to be better is exciting, and hopefully we can to watch them grow in the next few weeks and grow quickly because we do have a tough stretch."
There aren't nearly as many new personnel to work in on the defensive side of the ball, but Rivera still sees Carolina's pass rush as a work in progress. The Panthers had a season-high 11 quarterback hits Sunday against Ryan Fitzpatrick but had to settle for three sacks (all courtesy of Mario Addison).
"I know Fitz got hit a lot yesterday, which was cool – for us, not for him. But then there were times when we were stymied. Remember that they put 28 points on the board," Rivera said. "It's hot and cold."
The Panthers now have 21 sacks on the season – good for just 18th in the league. But keep in mind that 12 teams haven't had their bye and have played one more game than the Panthers. And keep in mind that it's not just about sacks.
Julius Peppers didn't take down Fitzpatrick for example, but he knocked down three of Fitzpatrick's passes. Peppers pushed to get in position to bat three passes – the first time in his career he's recorded three passes defensed in a game. Peppers had recorded a total of three passes defensed since the beginning of the 2015 season before Sunday.
View the top ten photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooter Jason Miczek.