The Panthers lost a pair of games to start this season, both times losing leads in the fourth quarter. The Week Two loss at Buffalo came as the Bills drove down the field against a defense that was playing not to lose.
On Sunday, coach Ron Rivera had his defense ready to play to win.
Rivera explained to PFT after the Week Three thrashing of the Giants that he told his team they’d defer the option to the second half if they won the coin toss, in order to get their defense back on the field as soon as possible.
That’s exactly what happened. The Giants’ opening drive ended with the first of seven sacks of Eli Manning, followed by two more sacks on New York’s second drive. The second time Carolina had the ball, Rivera opted to roll the dice on fourth and one from the Giants’ two — and the payoff was the only points the Panthers would need.
The pressure on Manning continued, thanks to the efforts of the Carolina defensive line.
“Our front four played really well today,” Rivera said. “We tried to force the Giants to throw early and underneath.”
Rivera said that his defensive line had performed well through training camp and the preseason, that that “it was time” for them to step up. He also said it was time for the team to focus on the things they did well down the stretch in 2012, when the Panthers won four in a row and five of six.
Though the defense carried the day, plenty of credit went to quarterback Cam Newton.
“After we lost [to Buffalo], he came in and told everybody, ‘We had a hell of a practice and we’re gonna continue to practice this way,'” Rivera said of Newton.
Though the Panthers would prefer to keep playing in lieu of having a bye in Week Four, Rivera said the plan moving forward is to focus more on preparation, realizing that it will translate directly to their performance in games.
The performance continues in Week Five, when the Panthers start a two-game road trip to Arizona and then Minnesota, teams that are a combined 1-5 through three weeks.
With 10 other NFC teams at 1-2 or worse, the chase for wild-card berths remains wide open. If the Panthers keep playing like they did today, they could end up with one of them.