Cam Newton will likely win the MVP, and Ron Rivera will likely be named Coach of the Year – and both honors would be well-deserved. But the Carolina defense deserves a whole lot of credit for the Panthers’ 17-1 record this season.

What’s been the key for that unit? What has allowed that defense to be as good as it’s been?

“To be honest with you, you may think it’s funny, but it’s very simple: just do your job,” Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It’s about accountability, that man next to you knowing that you’re going to do your job at the end of the day and you’re getting it done. So it’s really been the key for us – not just individual talent (but) doing your job. If it means break on a ball before the ball gets there, that’s what it means. If it means running downhill filing the gaps before the ball gets there, that’s what it means. If it means the defensive line getting pressure with the front four and everybody else needing to drop, then that’s what we need to do. So it’s just about doing your job, and that’s really what’s carried us this far.”

So has Rivera, who won a Super Bowl with the Bears exactly 30 years ago on Jan. 26.

“He’s a family guy,” Ealy said. “He’s not just our coach. He’s a secondary dad. (He’s tough) when he needs to be. He knows the right times. He’s also a players’ coach.”

Ealy, a second-round pick in 2014, finds himself in the enviable position of having the opportunity to sack Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50 in a game that much of America will be watching.

That’s pretty cool.

“Peyton’s a great guy,” said Ealy, 24. “He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. I’ve watched him ever since I was little. He’s a big idol as far as that, but when it comes to doing my job, every play is the opportunity for me to put him on his back. That’s the approach I take. That’s the mindset I take going into the game. . . . It’s going to be a great opportunity to go out there. I get it. This opportunity don’t come for everybody and it’s never promised. There’s guys that’s played in the league 10, 12 years that (never) got this opportunity or had the opportunity (but never got another). I’m going to go out there every play, and I’m going to play as hard as I can, and I’m going to try to get him on his back every opportunity I get. Period. And I’m going to tell you something else. It’s going to be an honor – because playing against a guy like that, just so much respect goes into this game. He has paved the way for other players like me. I do respect him. But when it comes down to doing my job, that’s what I’m going to do.”


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