Despite playing at least twice a year, the Carolina Panthers had only beaten the New Orleans Saints once since the 2016 season, and never under second-year head coach Matt Rhule.
That all changed on Sunday.
The Panthers’ defense dominated a Saints offense that produced 38 points in its Week 1 matchup against the Packers, holding the Saints to seven points, sacking quarterback Jameis Winston four times and intercepting him twice.
Two passing touchdowns from Sam Darnold helped give the Panthers a 17-0 lead at halftime. After a Saints touchdown in the fourth quarter, Carolina tacked on another TD and field goal to cruise to the 26-7 win.
Brandon Zylstra's first NFL touchdown!
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/ZdTIKagbcT
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 19, 2021
The Panthers are now 2-0 after a 19-14 Week 1 win over the Jets, and are tied with the defending-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers for first place in the NFC South. Carolina currently leads the league in fewest yards (190.0) and fewest points (10.5) allowed per game.
“They work really hard,” Rhule said about his players in his postgame press conference. “We have guys who lay it on the line and sacrifice a lot. There’s a lot of sacrifice and humility from a lot of guys in that locker room.”
Humility is an important trait for Rhule, both professionally and personally.
Despite his reputation for quickly rebuilding programs and his rapid rise through the coaching ranks — first at Temple from 2013-2016, then at Baylor from 2017-2019, and now with the Panthers — Rhule has sought to remain humble in his relationship with Christ and recognize every success is a gift from God.
When Rhule arrived at Baylor in 2017, the school produced a video in which Rhule discussed his faith and how it shapes his coaching style.
“Anytime God asks you to do something, I set my sights on Him and know that there will be small, fragile beginnings,” he said in the video, “but knowing that His glory awaits some day. … My prayer is that I will humble myself each day and draw closer to God so He’ll draw closer to me.”
Rhule knows that success in life is not measured by how many wins he accumulates. Speaking at a Man Up Conference in 2018 (a Christian men’s conference series held at churches throughout America), Rhule’s address ended with a reference to Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:33, which says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“Those words (Matthew 6:33) that I heard when I was sitting in the pews when I was a young, young child, it took me about 30 years to figure out what they truly meant,” Rhule said, adding, “When I go home tomorrow and see [my] two little girls — that my pride, and my envy, and my heart, and my ambition almost didn’t allow to be here — I thank the Lord.
“My prayer for each and every man in this room, is that we don’t lower our expectations, we just make sure our expectations have purpose. God bless you.”
Rhule’s father was a preacher, introducing him to faith in Christ at a young age.
“[Faith] leads me in everything I do,” Rhule told the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2016. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m perfect in every way, but I do know this: I’m a Christian man, and I go where God tells me to go. I do what God tells me to do, as best as I can.”
Rhule isn’t perfect, but two games into the season, his Panthers are. Now they face a short week, as they will play the 1-1 Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. The game is scheduled to kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET from Houston.
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