- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn looked up from his cell phone with one of those are-you-kidding-me-looks when asked if the second game of a 16-game season is a must-win situation.
His reply was polite. Respectful.
It still was a strange look, and he wasn't the only player that gave one when asked the same question.
But for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, that started last season 1-6 and hasn't been above .500 six games into a season since '08, Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Buffalo does have a must-win feel to it.
Statistics support this.
Since 1990, 190 teams started 0-2. Twenty eight finished with a winning record (14.7 percent) and only 22 (12 percent) reached the playoffs.
But the Panthers haven't proved worthy of being called a winning team, much less a Super Bowl team.
So if Carolina (0-1) is to have a chance at success this season, a victory in Buffalo (0-1) is essential. Just don't tell that to the players.
"I take no stock in stats," defensive end Greg Hardy said. "...Maybe we're bigger and faster than any team around this year."
Maybe they are. But stats still say 0-2 is a formula for disaster.
"We’re not worried about that," quarterback Cam Newton said.
Newton is worried about getting an offense that scored only seven points against Seattle on track. He's worried about finding a way to better the career-low 125 yards passing against the Seahawks and avoiding the Buffalo blitz.
"I want to win," Newton said.
Winning is what it has to be about for the Panthers. The team's next four opponents and six of the next seven are 0-1. Carolina must get through that part of the schedule 5-3 or even 4-4 to have a chance at improving on last year's 7-9 record and keep the speculation of a coaching change from surfacing.
Nobody will admit that. Coach Ron Rivera doesn't want them to.
"I don't want to get into this is a big game," he said. "S---, last week was a big game and next week is going to be a big game. That's kind of what I would like our guys to understand, and stay focused that we're going to play them one game at a time.
"We can't get ahead. You can't have two wins until you get the first one. So we've got to get this one."
So that makes it a must-win game.
Statistics show that.