Rivera on 2017 Panthers: "We can be whatever we want to be"
The Carolina Panthers were the best team in the NFC in 2015. But they lost to Denver in Super Bowl 50, and, a year later, were the worst team in their division.
Super Bowl letdown?
"I think there is something to it," Panthers' coach Ron Rivera said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "It's a tough set of circumstances. It's a major letdown. I know for us it was a difficult set of circumstances."
So how do the Panthers rebound? Atlanta not only won the NFC South but became the second straight division champion to represent the NFC. So the Falcons not only stand in Carolina's path to the top of the conference; they stand in the Panthers' way in what might be the most competitive division in the NFL.
"The biggest thing ... more so than anything ... else is what we want to do," said Rivera. "It's not about what we have to do; it's what we want to do. And to me, having a chance to reflect on the past season, and then look at what we can become going forward.
"I thought we did some good things in free agency. I thought we had a pretty solid draft. So I feel very comfortable about our opportunities about doing what we want to do.
"And that's going to be the message: 'Guys, we can be whatever we want to be.' And I know this much based on what we went through in 2015: I'd take that any day of the week, except at the end of the day I want to win the Super Bowl."
The Panthers' chances, of course, are directly related to their quarterback. Cam Newton was the league MVP in 2015. A year later, he was hurt and harried, throwing 16 fewer touchdown passes, four more interceptions and producing the worst passer rating of his NFL career.
"I love the 2015 version," said Rivera. "And that's what we're working toward: Getting him back to what he's been and what he's capable of.
"One of the things about him that's truly unique is he's got great vision. He can see things downfield. He can try to extend a play to give himself that opportunity to where he sees what's going on. When he gets into a rhythm I think he's as good as anybody in the league. I really do."
And when he's not? Last season speaks for itself.
"One thing I don't think a lot of people understand is just how much control he has over the plays we call and what we're doing," said Rivera. "Last year there were some things that I didn't think worked in our favor. Obviously, the injuries early on in the season, especially to our left tackle, Michael Oher, and I think one of the things that really offset us was the shuffling of our offensive line because of the injuries that went on.
"(Ryan) Kalil gets hurt, and we lose him for the rest of the season as well. So when you have a position contraction like we did I think it changes the complexion of what you want to do on offense. And it did. It hurt us. And because of that it didn't allow us to utilize Cam's abilities, his ability to use his vision to extend a play to make a play happen downfield for us."