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Fixing a broken record

Posted Oct 31, 2011

CHARLOTTE - Given where the Panthers stood in their rebuilding process entering the season, a 2-6 record heading into the bye week wouldn't have been a big surprise.

But given how rapidly the Panthers have successfully rebuilt in a number of areas, 2-6 feels like a broken record.

"It's like groundhog day," tight end Greg Olsen said following Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. "It seems like we've had this conversation six times this year."

The good news is that the Panthers have been in the conversation in every single game. The bad news is that despite being outscored by just 20 points at the halfway mark of the season, Carolina has lost three-quarters of its games.

All of the losses have been up for grabs heading to the latter stages of the fourth quarter, and Sunday's hung in the balance until the final few seconds, when Olindo Mare missed a 31-yard field goal with 29 seconds to go that could have forced overtime.

"I kind of felt like last week against the Redskins (a 33-20 victory) we got over that hump, and then we take a step back," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We've got to get to a point where we just take steps forward."

Coming off a 2-14 season, with a lack of experience at quarterback and a lack of time for a new coaching staff to get everything off the ground, the Panthers were expected to be inconsistent at best.

But rookie quarterback Cam Newton has played like a veteran, and veteran wide receiver Steve Smith has recaptured the exuberance of his rookie year, helping the offense go from the NFL's least productive in 2010 to one that ranks fifth in the league and has the Panthers in contention every Sunday.

As a result, the 2-6 record doesn't leave the Panthers encouraged that they've already matched last year's win total. Rather, they're discouraged because of what could have been.

"These guys have a disdain for what has happened. We're not very happy with the situation," Rivera said. "We know that we're a better football team. We need to become that football team now that knows how to finish.

"There's a lot of frustration right now because we are good enough to win football games. We should have won some that we lost so far."

During the bye week, the coaching staff will have time to study the thin line between winning and losing since they don't yet have to devote all their time to studying the next opponent.

Rivera said the staff would break down all aspects of the operation in search of answers.

"We're going to go through what we've done the first eight weeks and see what has been working, what hasn't been working, what needs to be improved," he said. "It's going to give us a great opportunity to evaluate our entire roster. We'll take a step back and look at each guy individually, talk about each guy individually.

"I'll also get an opportunity to visit with each of the coordinators and talk about what we're doing."

While the coaches seek solutions, the players will seek some rest. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement dictates that players get four consecutive days off during the bye week, a break that will begin Thursday.

"We need the bye," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We'll get some time to slow down, get away from each other and let things heal up physically and mentally.

"I think the guys are going to respond really well. We've got a heck of a schedule the next eight weeks, but there's no reason we can't win out. It may sound crazy to say, but I don't think anyone is counting this season as over."

Despite the team's record, the fact that Gross can make such a statement without it sounding crazy shows how just how much the Panthers have progressed in short order.

The Panthers do have a broken record, but they have the tools to fix it.

"We've arrived at a certain point a little bit faster than I believed we could, and I'm excited about that," Rivera said. "I really think that this team needs to win and needs to win now because I believe we have the type of players in the locker room that you can win with. I just really feel that way."

QUICK HITS: Injury issues at linebacker continue. Rivera said that Jason Phillips (calf) and Thomas Williams (neck) are still being evaluated but could possibly be out for an extended period. The good news is that linebacker Omar Gaither (knee), who returned after a two-game absence, came out fine. … Cornerback Darius Butler missed Sunday's game as his infant daughter continues to recover from heart surgery. Rivera said Butler is being encouraged to take all the time he needs during the bye week. … Rivera said the team is yet to decide whether cornerback Brandon Hogan will be come off the Physically Unable to Perform list. Hogan (knee) has been practicing since Oct. 19, and the team has until Nov. 9 to place him on the active roster or shut him down for the season. "We'll see," Rivera said. "He's gotten better and better each day."