Last year, the Carolina Panthers started 3-8-1, with six of their eight losses coming by 18+ points. This year, the Panthers went 15-1 and were the best team in the NFL.
“I think our perception,” Panthers safety Roman Harper said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Maybe our mentality has changed. We understand now how great of a team we are. You got to do things to allow yourself to win. Last year, we weren’t even doing the things to put ourselves in position to win games. We were just getting in our own way. So often you got to get out of your own way. Don’t play two teams. You got to play one team. It’s already hard enough to win every week in the NFL. Try to get out of your own way first. We did a bad job of that last year. This year, we’ve really done a great job of honing in on who we are as a team, what works best for us and going out and executing week in and week out and sticking together through the bad times and good times and understanding that as long as we play our type of game and our style and our way and try to dictate the way we want to do things, we’re going to win those ball games. We got a really great team, and I think we understand that. We all put team first over each individual player.”
Carolina led the league in scoring offense (31.3 points per game) and finished sixth in scoring defense (19.3 points per game). Harper, who spent the first eight years of his career in New Orleans, is used to playing on teams that lead the league in offense. But having such an elite defense? Well, yes and no.
The defense that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV was all about forcing turnovers. This year’s Carolina team is all about shutting people down.
“In New Orleans, it was more fast break,” Harper said. “We didn’t have a four-minute offense where you try to run the clock out at the end of the game. Sean Payton didn’t believe in that. He’s going to score as many points as he could until you stop trying to score. So defensively, we had to play a little bit softer coverages and try to bait guys. We weren’t worried about yards given up or anything like that. It was more about turnovers. We wanted to create turnovers and get our offense back on the field. It was more of a fast-paced, up-tempo type deal.
“Here, it’s not so much about that,” Harper continued. “We don’t want to give up so many points. We still want to try to force turnovers – which, we led the league un turnovers this year – and (give) our offense back the ball. Cam and those guys do a great job of ball possession – running the ball, throwing it and then attacking through deep shots. We’re going to take our time to take shots, but we’re going to pound you. It’s more physical. That’s our mentality. It’s a little bit different.”
The Panthers, who have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, will host Washington, Green Bay or Seattle on Jan. 17, pending this weekend’s results.