Talk of Panthers going 16-0 increases, but Ron Rivera remembers the video

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who played for the 1985 Chicago Bears, knows from experience what can happen when a team turns its focus to a perfect season instead of its next opponent. AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera had the perfect answer on Friday when asked if he let himself think about a perfect season during his 1985 run with the Chicago Bears.

"All you’ve got to do is look at the video," the former Bears linebacker said with a smile, referring to the famous "Super Bowl Shuffle." "I mean, yeah, we thought [about it], at one point."

If you haven’t heard the story, the Bears were 12-0 going into a Monday night game at Miami. Plans to shoot the video already were in place for Tuesday.

Chicago lost 38-24.

So Rivera has seen first hand what can happen when a team looks past the next game. He will keep hammering that point to his players as they head into a weekend off after improving to 11-0 with Thursday’s 33-14 victory in Dallas.

But Rivera also understands human nature and how it might allow players to think about the perfect season. He understands that 16-0 looks a lot more attainable at 11-0 than it did at 8-0.

That was evident on Friday.

"Yeah, you see it," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said of 16-0. "Everyone on the team sees it. It’ll be something for us to all fight for.

"The way our team is playing, it’s going to take us not to play well on Sunday for a team to beat us."

Other players acknowledged that 16-0 is something that occasionally creeps into the back of their minds. They hear the fans talking about it, and sense the excitement that is building in Charlotte.

More than a hundred fans were waiting at the stadium at 1 a.m. when the team returned from Dallas.

But from Edwards on down the Panthers aren’t looking past next week’s game in New Orleans. They aren’t preparing a Super Bowl video or thinking past getting to 12-0.

"This league is too hard, it’s too competitive," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It takes way too much effort and preparation to win one game a week. Teams that worry too much about the future or dwell too much on the past, you’re not putting all your energy into winning one game a week.

"I don’t think you can get yourself too wrapped up in what’s ahead."

But even Olsen couldn’t deny that 16-0 looks a lot more realistic now than it once did.

"Yeah, looking at 16 when you’re in Week 13 is a lot easier when you’re in [Week] 2 or 3, for sure," he said. "But you can’t win 16 if you don’t win 12."

That the Panthers are playing their most complete football of the season makes 16-0 more realistic, as well. The defense isn’t allowing fourth-quarter comebacks the way it did in consecutive wins against Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay.

The unit that once ranked 10th in the league has risen to No. 4, and should move up again after holding Dallas to 210 yards. It has gone from giving up an occasional big run to holding the past two opponents to a combined 45 yards, the lowest two-game total in franchise history.

The offense, despite settling for four field goals against Dallas, ranks third in the league in scoring. Quarterback Cam Newton is playing at the highest level of his career, and history shows his statistics have been significantly better in December throughout his career.

That two of the final five games are against an Atlanta (6-4) team that has lost four of its past five and that none of the other opponents -- New Orleans (4-6), the New York Giants (5-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) -- have winning records, increases noise of 16-0.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index the Panthers have a 17.9 percent chance of winning out. That’s the highest in the league going into Sunday.

"There’s going to be a lot of talk and speculation, but the truth of the matter it [talk] should only be geared up to the next game," Rivera said.

He knows.

Just look at the video.