Sometimes being on the field of an NFL game provides a unique perspective, especially when it comes to the tone of a game. Along the sidelines you soak in all of the atmosphere. It is the difference between watching a concert on television or watching it from the first row of the venue. I think you will agree they are two completely different experiences.
It was clear from the moment introductions were made, this was a regular season game for the New England Patriots.
The stadium was full. The fans were loud. The Patriots were prepared and eager to punch the Panthers in the mouth. Retribution was in order for a game last season they feel they should have won.
"Is this a regular season game?" I asked Kelli Bartik mid way through the first quarter. "Sure feels like it" she replied. It wasn't just my imagination.
Sadly, no one informed the Carolina Panthers that this game mattered, and it showed.
I have frequently remarked this season that I felt the Panthers were off to another slow start due to the lack of urgency in their training camp practices. Losing early in the season has been a hallmark of the Rivera era. Rivera has never won the first game of the season and has only won the second game of a season a one time (2012 against a New Orleans Saints team missing a head coach).
''There was no consistency in the way we played,'' Ron Rivera remarked after the game ''It's something that has to be corrected and has to be fixed now.'' This quote is reminiscent of something we have historically heard from Rivera in September. The good news? It is only August, and in two weeks the standings are reset.
After the game, New England Coach Bill Belichick denied game planning for this game. ''There's no game plan,'' Belichick said. ''We can't game plan for 90 guys. We can barely get it right when we have 46. That's just not what this game is.''
With all due respect to Bill, I am not buying it. Historically, all NFL teams do at least minimal game plan for the third season game, especially on a full week's rest from the previous preseason game (as the Patriots had for this game). Game planning is not something only for the players, but also the coaches. It is an exercise in execution as well as communication. It is a dress rehearsal for all involved. The probability Bill Belichick skipped this important aspect of preseason against an opponent that beat him last seson? Zero.
Want to make a loss sting a little more to your opponent? Tell them you weren't even trying. Classic Belichick.
I believe this game against the Patriots may serve as the reminder of what regular season play feels like. We will find out in two weeks in Tampa Bay, a game that actually matters.
If Ron Rivera can win the first season opener of his head coaching career, you may find yourself thanking the New England Patriots.