Ron Rivera knows better than to get caught up in an emotional victory that brought the Carolina Panthers to the brink of the best start in franchise history.
That’s because the memory of last season’s disastrous loss in Philadelphia still resonates. The Eagles forced turnovers on two of the Panthers’ first three offensive snaps and led by as many as 38 in a 45-21 victory.
Rivera’s squad has remained humble leading up to Sunday night’s rematch at home with Carolina’s first-ever 6-0 start in sight.
The Panthers have won their first five for the first time since making their only Super Bowl appearance in 2003 after Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left for a 27-23 win at Seattle last week.
Rivera called it a "hallmark win" to beat the two-time defending NFC champions, but Carolina quickly has moved forward. The loss to the Eagles (3-3) in November came during a seven-game winless stretch that nearly destroyed the Panthers’ season before they rallied to win the NFC South.
”Hey, they whipped us last year, so there’s a challenge,” Rivera said. "They’re a playoff-caliber team. The bottom line is about us doing our job and playing to our capabilities.
”There’s going to be a lot of noise now because of who we are and what’s been happening and the positive things that have been going on. We can’t focus on the noise."
Newton threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in last year’s meeting. He tossed two picks last week before bouncing back to throw the winning score, which Rivera believes is a sign of his quarterback’s maturity.
However, after pledging in the offseason to focus on the passing portion of his dual-threat abilities, Newton’s 55.4 completion percentage ranks 33rd of 34 qualifying QBs.
He’s scored three touchdowns on the ground, though, and has helped the Panthers rank third in the league in rushing yards per game at 132.8. Still, they’re 28th in total offense with an average of 334.2 yards.
Carolina continues to rely heavily on a defense that is giving up 338.0 yards per game to rank seventh in the NFL while forcing 11 turnovers. The unit will also get a boost after Rivera said Friday that end Jared Allen, the NFL’s active sacks leader, will start after missing the Seahawks game with a pinched nerve in his back.
"We’ve got to get ready for (Philadelphia). That’s what it is all about," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "You’ve got to have a short-term memory regardless of the outcome (from the previous week)."
The only time the Eagles haven’t turned the ball over in their last 22 games was when they faced the Panthers last year, but repeating that efficiency could come down to Sam Bradford making better decisions.
Bradford tossed three interceptions in Monday’s 27-7 win over the New York Giants. His nine picks are tied for the second-most in the NFL, and his 80.0 passer rating ranks 28th.
”If I knew (what the problems was), I would stop throwing them,” Bradford said. ”It is something that I never really had a problem with in my career. I have never thrown a lot of interceptions, so this is kind of new to me. But we’re going to get it fixed. I’m going to get it fixed. And hopefully we are going to eliminate that from our offense.”
One of the more encouraging points from the Eagles’ second consecutive victory was DeMarco Murray’s 109-yard performance that included a touchdown run. He’s rushed for 192 over the last two weeks after totaling 47 in his first three games while also missing a week with a hamstring injury.
Coach Chip Kelly’s offense has averaged 472.0 yards over the last two after gaining 294.0 through the first four. The back-to-back wins have put the Eagles into a tie with the Giants atop the NFC East, but that’s not something Kelly is focused on at this point.
”I don’t think of things globally,” Kelly said. ”Each week is its own individual season. I’m looking at Carolina. I couldn’t even tell you who is winning the AFC until we play those teams.”
Philadelphia’s defense has contributed as well. Its 16 turnovers forced are the second-most in the league, and it had three takeaways while giving up a season-low 247 total yards against the Giants.
The Eagles sacked Newton a career-high nine times in last year’s matchup.