Albert Breer wrote about our turnaround a couple months ago. Here's an excerpt:
The Panthers did, in fact, rebuild. It just happened so fast that you might have missed it.
One of the first things Gettleman -- who wasn't available for this story; his policy is to not speak publicly in-season -- was taxed with on the job was fixing the team's sideways cap situation. And that might be the one thing Carolina has actually slow-played under this regime.
The Panthers went 12-4 with a veteran group in 2013, silencing any questions about Rivera's status. And then came the bloodletting. Steve Smith was cut, and two other receivers bolted via free agency. Cornerstone left tackle Jordan Gross retired, and three other O-linemen followed him off into the sunset. The secondary was gutted, with Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell shown the door.
"Honestly, at the beginning of , we were just trying to find a combination of offensive linemen we could play with, we're starting a rookie at receiver [Kelvin Benjamin] and we have another, in Philly Brown, who's gonna play," Rivera said. "All this stuff is in my head early in camp. It was crazy to see the turnover, but you always look at it like you have a chance. I kept telling the coaches, 'Keep telling the guys, take care of business, and we'll be fine.'
Then, Greg Hardy's situation flared up leading into a Week 2 game against the Detroit Lions.
Then, the bottom really did start to fall out. Working with rookies and castoffs all over the place, the Panthers went through a two-month period where they didn't win a game. As it turns out, that was the team's rebuild. It lasted seven games.
"There was that time, we're playing young guys like [guard] Andrew Norwell, [guard] Trai Turner and [safety] Tre Boston, we're developing them," Rivera said. "Our mantra's always been 'Keep pounding,' and it really is to just keep working. At one point, we're 3-8-1, but it was knowing that if we got on a roll, we'd have a chance. The month of December gets here, and we have a crazy record in December since I've been in Carolina. Sure enough, we get on a roll."
That roll hasn't stopped. Since last December, the Panthers are 10-1: four wins to close the 2014 regular season, a win and a loss in the playoffs, and five wins to start this season.
Even better, this team, unlike the one Gettleman and Rivera rolled with in 2013, is built to last. Of the 22 players who started in the divisional playoffs that year, only eight are still in Carolina. Conversely, of the 22 players who started last Sunday's win in Seattle, only 10 were on the team in 2013 -- and that's counting Ted Ginn, who left and came back.
In the wash, the roster got younger. The Panthers have a lot of players in their early-to-mid-20s aboard with still-untapped potential and rookie contracts that keep the finances in order -- some of them high draft picks (like Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Turner), others not drafted at all (Norwell, Brown). And to stay competitive while those guys develop, Gettleman and Rivera tapped trusty, affordable vets like Peanut Tillman and Roman Harper, as well as in-their-prime values like Michael Oher to fill in the blanks.
Maybe the best display of all the growth: How the Panthers have ridden out the season-ending injury to budding star receiver Kelvin Benjamin and the shorter-term absence of Luke Kuechly.