Panthers DT Kyle Love will take 'The Rivera Way' over 'The Patriots Way'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love laughed when told former teammate Josh Norman recently referred to the organization as a “dictatorship.’’

That’s because for three years Love was a part of what he considered a dictatorship in New England, Carolina’s opponent in Friday night’s third exhibition game.

He says Carolina is anything but that.

Love understands “The Patriot Way’’ has become the gold standard that NFL teams strive to reach. Carolina coach Ron Rivera has said more than a time or two -- including Wednesday -- that New England is the league measuring stick.

Four Super Bowl wins and six trips to the title game since coach Bill Belichick took over in 2000 is hard to deny.

But given his druthers, Love would take “The Panthers Way.’’ Specifically, he would take “The Rivera Way’’ over “The Belichick Way.’’

“He lets guys be themselves,’’ Love said of Rivera.

To be fair, Love feels betrayed by Belichick, who released the tackle a few weeks after he was diagnosed with “Type 2 diabetes’’ in 2013. He’d started 25 games from 2010 to 2012 and felt he wasn’t given a fair chance to prove he could play with the disease, as he has the past two seasons at Carolina.

Remnants of those emotions surfaced when he was asked on Wednesday to compare Rivera to Belichick.

“One thing I would say about Coach Ron is he’s a players’ coach, and he’s played on this level, and it’s always great to play for a coach that’s played on this level,’’ Love said of Rivera, a former linebacker with the Chicago Bears. “Not to take anything from Bill. He’s a great coach. But somebody who understands the players -- what they’re going through when guys [are] banged up -- [Rivera] understands because he was on this level. That’s probably the best thing. He knows how to take care of his guys. He likes guys to have fun and be themselves. That’s one thing you couldn’t do in New England. You couldn’t be yourself.’’

That contrasts with what Norman said in the latest ESPN The Magazine. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection said while he learned accountability and integrity at Carolina, he felt muzzled by organization after he became a star. He said going to the Washington Redskins was like going from a “dictatorship to freedom.’’

Love has felt freedom at Carolina, reminding how Rivera let quarterback Cam Newton and others dance and “dab’’ all the way to the Super Bowl.

But he can’t blame Rivera or any coach for wanting to achieve the success that New England has.

“People want to win,’’ Love said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this league is about. It’s about winning. People want to get to the Super Bowl.

“Not saying you want to be that same, exact team. But take some kind of characteristics from that other team.’’

And Love does see similarities in Carolina and New England.

“Just a lot of hard-working guys here,’’ he said. “A lot of dedication. People have fun, but people know when it’s time to work, it’s time to work.’’

Asked if it was fun under Belichick, Love smiled and said, “I’m not going to comment on that one.’’

Rivera loves a lot about Belichick, down to the future Hall of Fame coach shooting down the notion that the third preseason game is a “dress rehearsal’’ for the regular season. But what he most loves is who the Patriots are under Belichick.

“There is a certain aura about this team that Coach Belichick has built -- the way they play, the way they pose themselves, the way they handle things,’’ Rivera said. “That really is the gold standard in our league, and that’s what you want to become. You want to become that team that every year people are gunning for you. Every year they want to beat you. That’s what you want to become.’’

Rivera said the Panthers, despite three straight NFC South titles, last season’s NFL-best 15-1 regular season record and trip to the Super Bowl, have a “ways to go’’ before becoming that kind of team.

But Love believes with Rivera’s guidance the Panthers have a chance to get there.

“I don’t want to get into the whole measuring stick thing, comparing teams,’’ he said. “This organization is definitely at the top of its game right now.’’