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Bryce Young after win: "Where else would you rather be?"

231217 Falcons In-Game-201

CHARLOTTE — To a man, his Panthers teammates talked about how there was a belief that Bryce Young had this in him.

In recent weeks, it wasn't even clear if Young believed it himself, based on his body language after so many dispiriting losses when the offense — his offense — was the thing going wrong.

But Sunday, there was a lightness about the Panthers' rookie quarterback as he came to the interview room in his slides, still wet from playing all day in a monsoon, grinning for a change.

This was what it was supposed to be like: the No. 1 overall pick leading game-winning drives. But nothing that happened lately suggested they were capable of a 9-7 win over the Falcons, much less one that came thanks to a 17-play, 85-yard drive, which began at their own 5-yard line with 7:35 left in the game.

"I mean, where else would you rather be?" Young replied when asked what he had told his teammates at that moment. "You know, opportunity go down and win the game. For me, there's no other group I'd rather deal with. We all have faith in each other; we all believe in each other. And it was just a great opportunity. So I'm just in the huddle, being able to look at each other. We all had the same look in each other's eyes.

"We all had confidence and, you know, we were able to put it together."

Again, if you were watching last week in New Orleans or at many other points this season, You might not have been inclined to think this was possible.

But there was rookie receiver Jonathan Mingo making plays, bringing in a key third-down grab on the game-winning drive. And there was DJ Chark Jr., toe-tapping another key catch in the winning drive. There were guys making plays who hadn't, but most of all, Young, who broke out of a slump.

A week ago, he was 13-of-36 for 137 yards passing in the controlled climate of the Caesars Superdome. Back home at Bank of America Stadium in a downpour, he was so much better. He finished the game 18-of-24 for 167 yards, for a 93.6 passer rating. That 75.0 completion percentage was more than double last week's.

It made no sense. And somehow, it worked.

"Obviously, everything's kind of against us in the passing game, and to be able to go down and score or get to the field goal range and win the game says a lot about this group's resiliency and just keep fighting to find a way to win," veteran wideout Adam Thielen said. "Obviously, it's only our second one, but it feels good to win no matter what."

Thielen has been the guy Young trusts the most, and he led the team with four catches for 43 yards in the rain. But for all the receivers who stepped up, none more so than Young.

On that final drive, which allowed them to take knees and kick a short field goal to win, he was 5-of-5 for 68 yards.

"You just see the confidence in him," Thielen said. "Just let everybody do their job, focus, and you can hear the energy in his voice. We can do this. No panic, no stress. Let's go see what happens."

As is his custom, Young spread it around, crediting offensive coordinator Thomas Brown and interim coach Chris Tabor for keeping them in these positions.

But anyone who has watched the Panthers regularly saw the difference in Young himself on Sunday, particularly in that final drive.

"He put together, all those kids put together, in those conditions, and people might say, hey, with nothing to play for," Tabor began. "there's a lot to play for because whatever is on tape, that is who you are. So I was really proud of him.

"I thought he took another great step. I thought that he threw the ball well, for what the conditions were, you know what I mean? So I was, I was really proud of him. The kid is a winner."

It's hard to make any one game a referendum, especially when they're still 2-12. But after so many weeks when so many things went wrong, they also weren't going to apologize for feeling good for a second.

And even if it was just one game, it was that one drive, and that made them think it was a sign of things getting better at some point down the road, based on the quarterback they have so much invested in.

"You know, he's a leader," center Bradley Bozeman said when asked about that final sequence. "That's the biggest thing; he's a leader. He's motivating, he's encouraging. He's bringing, he's bringing that leadership to the front of the table. So that's the best thing about Bryce with everything that's happened this season."

But they can talk about having faith. But through the first 13 games, there wasn't a lot of evidence to base it upon.

"You know, everyone in this room is just going to swing," Bozeman said. "That's all you've ever seen. No one cares what the record is; no one cares what's happening. Everyone is just going to keep bringing their best forward, and today they did that. When the moment counted, they rose to the occasion.

"So it was really encouraging and just so excited to see that from our guys because guys have been working hard all year. We've all been busting our ass all year. So to be able to see that and come to life, it's huge through all of this stuff, absolutely."

And for none of them more than Bryce Young, who was able to smile again.

View all the action from the Panthers game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15.

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