CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Don’t feel sorry for the Carolina Panthers because they lack household names at wide receiver.
The Panthers have been questioned about their lack of receiver talent -- and for that matter overall offensive talent outside of quarterback Cam Newton -- since Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season in training camp.
They were questioned last week before beating Tampa Bay 38-10 to end the regular-season as the top scoring team in the NFL at 31.2 points a game.
There were more questions about it Monday from reporters who haven’t been around the team all season. There will be more as the Panthers (15-1) are introduced to new audiences in the playoffs.
Tight end Greg Olsen has a message for everyone.
"At some point the narrative that we don’t have a lot of good players has to probably come to an end," the two-time Pro Bowler said. "We’ve seen throughout the course of the season we have guys that can contribute all over the place."
Sunday’s win was a prime example. The Panthers were without leading rusher Jonathan Stewart (sprained foot) and top wide receiver Ted Ginn (knee).
They responded against the league’s 10th-ranked defense with 38 points. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 44 yards and his first career touchdown. Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess had a career-best seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.
"You hear it every week," Olsen said. "You heard it this week from one of their [Tampa Bay] guys this year, that other than Cam they don’t have a lot of good players.
"Well yeah, Cam is arguably the best player in the league. But we’ve got a lot of other good guys that can play."
The statistics speak for themselves. Newton had a career-high 35 touchdown passes to go along with 10 rushing touchdowns. Stewart finished eighth in the NFL in rushing with 989 yards despite missing the final three games.
Ginn had a career-best 10 touchdown catches, the same number as Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown. Olsen ranked second behind New England’s Rob Gronkowski in receiving yards for tight ends with 1,104.
"We may not be household names, but we feel pretty confident with the group of guys we have that we can get contributions from a lot of different areas," Olsen said.
And when the Panthers open the playoffs on Jan. 17 against Seattle, Washington or Green Bay, they will be at full strength offensively with Stewart and Ginn expected back.
Stewart in particular will be key.
"He’s such a tough runner," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "He and Cam have a good feel together, not just some of the things we do zone read wise but just in general with the running game. He’s tough to bring down."
Adding Ginn’s speed back to the mix with Funchess playing with more confidence also will help. Coach Ron Rivera mentioned in particularly the 16-yard touchdown catch that Funchess made over the middle on what he called a "bang 8."
"Breaking the tackle and getting into the end zone, that’s strong," Rivera said. "That is something we had missed early on because we didn’t have Kelvin.
"We’ll get Teddy back, and with that speed ... throwing Devin into that mix now, who knows, maybe he could have that type of sneaky impact that you’re hoping for."
The Carolina offense apparently has sneaked up on a lot of people. Shula said on Monday that he jokingly reminds his group all the time they don’t have a premier receiver. Shula also understands why the outside world doubts Carolina’s offensive talent. He’s quick to remind that Newton is a big reason everyone is playing at such a high level.
"He’s got a unique ability to give guys opportunities to make plays and show his confidence in them," Shula said. "Those guys have more confidence in themselves because they know Cam has a genuine confidence that those guys, when they’re in there, are going to make plays."
At some point, Olsen believes out outside world will recognize that.
"I don’t think you come into a game and say, 'If we do this we’ll beat them,'" he said. "You have a lot of things you have to look out for.
"When you can run the ball the way we do -- and obviously the quarterback that he can do what he does in the running game -- and a pretty explosive passing game, you’re checking a lot of boxes if you can do all those things."