CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is on the cusp of the most high-profile game of his head coaching career. He's just finished his final practice for the Monday night showdown against the New England Patriots.
So what's on his mind?
"The Miami Heat is in town, Chris [Tucker] and I'm going to a play,'' Rivera said to begin his Saturday media debriefing.
OK, he actually said Chris Rock, so his mind isn't totally on evening plans with his wife. Or maybe he's just disappointed he's going to a play instead of to watch LeBron James.
But you get the picture, it's a big weekend in Charlotte, and it gets bigger on Monday when the Panthers (6-3) face the New England Patriots in ESPN's primetime game.
Here are a few of Rivera's final thoughts before he goes into hiding:
Who's out? Rivera said outside linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot), tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) and guard Chris Scott (knee) will not play. The Panthers have been preparing as if that were going to be the case all week, so there's no huge concern.
What has defensive tackle Dwan Edwards brought to the defense since returning last week from a hamstring injury? "That third-down pass rush technique,'' Rivera said. "That consistent play we get every now and then (from rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short). We don't get enough of that on a consistent basis.'' Edwards had two sacks last week at San Francisco.
All year people have been waiting for somebody to expose the secondary. Will Tom Brady be that guy? "I'd like to believe we'll continue to match up well,'' Rivera said. "To be honest, Tom's exposed a lot of secondaries.'' Understatement.
New England ranks 30th in the NFL in run defense. Can that be exploited? "Again, figures lie and lies figure,'' said Rivera, using one of his favorite phrases. "Part of it is teams have been behind. They had to throw the ball a lot. People run draws on them, traps. Coach [Bill] Belichick is not worried. Those are throwaway yards. To me, that's a number that is a little misleading.''
Last week at this stage you felt the team practiced nervous. How do you feel the team has handled this week? "I'd like to think we're doing the right things,'' Rivera said. "Look at the model. If it doesn't help us, don't do it.''
So what play are you going to see instead of the Miami Heat? "Some comedy,'' Rivera said. "Not necessarily Broadway. Something like that.''