Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 9/11/12
One game into the 2012 NFL season and the Carolina Panthers are already facing a pressure-packed game. The New Orleans Saints will bring their flared nostrils to Bank of America Stadium this Sunday to take on a Panthers team that also surprisingly lost its season opener. For New Orleans, it was a rookie quarterback named Robert Griffin III for the Washington Redskins who lit them up to the tune of a 40-32 beating at the Superdome. For Carolina, it was its own impotent offense that enabled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end a 10-game losing streak with a 16-10 victory. New Orleans is just two-plus years removed from winning a Super Bowl, and despite suspensions that include not having their head coach around due to a bizarre bounty-scheme, the Saints still had visions of an extensive postseason run this coming winter. Carolina brazenly approached this season as if it would make another giant leap toward the postseason, and in just year two of the Cam Newton and Ron Rivera eras would jump into the Super Bowl picture. Both teams can still achieve their goals, but it will be increasingly difficult for Sundays loser, as clubs that begin seasons 0-2 rarely make the playoffs. For the Panthers to avoid such a start they need to figure out what on earth went wrong with their ground attack. Tampa Bay had the worst rushing defense in the NFL last season, but Carolina managed a franchise-low 10 yards Sunday. It averaged 150 a game last season. Newton spent much of the game evading would-be tacklers behind the line of scrimmage. Tailback Jonathan Stewart didnt play, but that wasnt the problem. Carolinas offensive line was dominated, and it set the tone for the afternoon. What really got us beat in certain situations (was that) we lost some one-on-one matchups, Rivera said. A whole host of them. But the key now is getting those issues squared away. New Orleans is more talented than Tampa Bay and suddenly has its back against the wall, too. Not that playing Drew Brees, Will Smith and company is ever ideal, but taking them on a week after an embarrassing defeat just isnt ideal. But Rivera said looking at things through such a scope wont help. He wants his team to maintain its focus and keep believing in what theyve been taught. Theres no reason to panic or do anything rash right now, Rivera said Monday. This is our first real situation under fire, and were a young football team. We have four rookies that played a key role for us (at Tampa). Its not like were talking about a veteran team with five and six-year starters all over the place. No, Carolina has few such players. But thats lost on the teams expectations, much of which are driven from within the franchise. Veteran center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer in July saying the team will reach the Super Bowl. Rivera said he liked his players thinking that way and didnt mind them talking about such goals, adding that all NFL teams should have that as their objective. But few ever tell the world in such a public way, and in todays nature that will either make a player look like a genius down the road or become cause for tremendous consternation. Football is about blocking, tackling and executing. So whichever team is better at that likely will win Sunday. Rivera knows that, which is why he wants to keep things moving along as they have. One setback hasnt derailed hope in the teams locker room. It just calls for added inspiration. Were going to come out and do some things and make some things happen, Rivera said. And were going to have some crazy things happen that weve got to be able to withstand. But right now, theres a lot of optimism for what we can become as a football team. Whatever team that is, we will begin to learn more about Sunday afternoon.
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