- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Coach Ron Rivera has heard some critics say the Carolina Panthers are the worst 4-0 team in the league based on their schedule.

It doesn’t faze him at all.

The fifth-year coach isn’t apologizing for the franchise’s best start since 2003 - the year the Panthers went to their only Super Bowl - and couldn’t care less that his team’s wins have come against opponents with a combined 4-12 record.

“You can’t please everyone,” Rivera said. “But at the end of the day our record says we’re 4-0, and we’re 4-0. Our schedule says this is who we play. There is nothing I can do and you can’t please everybody. … Being the worst 4-0 team in the NFL, that’s OK. I get that. I’m OK with that.”

We’ll certainly find out more about whether Carolina is for real after this weekend’s bye.

The Panthers travel to Seattle on Oct. 18, then host Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay in successive weeks.

“It’s just the way it works,” Rivera said of his team’s early schedule, which has included wins against Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, all of whom are 1-3. “Are they going to say anything when the other undefeated teams play teams with losing records? It’s just the way it’s set up.”

Tight end Greg Olsen said flying under the radar is nothing new for the small-market Panthers. And he isn’t worried about the team’s lack of style points in some of its wins.

“If you poll 32 head coaches in this league they will tell you it’s hard to win in this league, I don’t care who you’re playing,” Olsen said.

The Panthers have won the NFC South in each of the last two seasons. Last year they did so pretty much by default, winning their last four games to get into the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record in a division nobody seemed to want. The Panthers then beat an Arizona Cardinals team down to its third quarterback before losing to the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs.

The Panthers have two weeks to prepare for Seattle, a team they’ve lost to four times in the past three seasons - all of those in close, hard-fought defensive battles.

Carolina has been bothered by injuries all season, but is optimistic that 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly will return against the Seahawks after missing the last three games with a concussion.

With their defensive leader sidelined, the Panthers have relied on Cam Newton to carry the load and the fifth-year quarterback hasn’t disappointed. Newton is having his best year through the first quarter of the season, posting a career-high quarterback rating of 88.5 with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions. He has also run for two scores.

“When you watch film there are always things that you can get better at,” Newton said. “That’s the great thing about this game - the perfect game is still out there.”

Newton said he can improve on his technique and making better decisions.

He’s having success despite playing with an unheralded group of receivers following the season-ending knee injury to Kelvin Benjamin in training camp. But Ted Ginn Jr., continues to make plays for the Panthers with three TD receptions in four games. Brenton Bersin has made an impact since being signed from the practice squad to replace the injured Jerricho Cotchery, who remains out with a high ankle sprain.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are perfect and on top of the NFC South.

“We’re 4-0 and we’re not apologizing,” Olsen said. “You are what your record says you are.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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