HAPPY TO SEE THE SWAGGER BACK: Last Monday, head coach Ron Rivera was concerned about the morale of his team following its first loss of the season.
This Monday, Rivera was pleased to say his team's swagger is back after a 38-10 win over Tampa Bay in the regular season finale.
"Oh yeah, definitely," Rivera said. "Did you see the picture?"
Rivera was referencing the group photo his players posed for as the clock wound down. It sure looked like there was plenty of swagger in that photo.
"Playing as well as we did yesterday is exciting," Rivera said. "It's great to see the guys enjoying it. It's great to see the guys with their confidence. I think that's something that's part of who we are."
Rivera agreed with injured cornerback Bene Benwikere, who said in a radio interview that while watching the Week 16 game at Atlanta from home, he could tell the Panthers lacked their typical intensity. That edge, a critical ingredient to this team's success, was missing.
"I couldn't deny it," Rivera said. "When you put the tape on and compare those games, you just didn't see it. I agreed."
A large part of the Panthers' swagger comes from their determination to prove doubters wrong. Rivera has said previously that the Panthers are "crashing the party" and they want to prove they belong.
"Our guys we feel we have a lot to prove and I do agree," Rivera said.
So how will Rivera keep the Panthers' underdog mentality intact when they're the NFC's top seed?
"I'll find something," Rivera said. "Believe me."
DEFENSIVE ENDS SHOWED IMPROVEMENT: The stats weren't gaudy, but Rivera was very encouraged by the play of the defensive ends in the regular season finale.
Defensive end Mario Addison recorded the first full sack by a defensive end in five weeks. Defensive tackle Kyle Love had the only other sack, but there was more consistent pressure on the quarterback than there had been in previous outings.
"They played really well," Rivera said of the defensive ends. "A couple times (Jameis Winston) escaped and we unfortunately we couldn't get to him. But we had him disrupted. There were some things that were really positive."
The effort against the run was a major positive. Running back Doug Martin, the NFL's second leading rusher with 1,402 yards, was limited to 48 yards on 15 carries.
"We held them to 77 total yards rushing, and that was really pleasing," Rivera said. "Our ends played a big part in it by setting the edges."
SUPPORTING COORDINATORS' AMBITIONS: If other organizations express interest in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott or offensive coordinator Mike Shula during this postseason bye week, Rivera made it clear that he will allow his assistants to interview for those opportunities if they wish.
"I've talked with both of them already. I want to be fair to these guys," said Rivera, who was the Chargers defensive coordinator before the Panthers hired him in 2011. "The coaches that I have worked for have all been fair to me. I want to be fair to them and make sure they get the opportunity. I'd be thrilled for them if somebody does call."
Carolina's assistant coaches are allowed to have one interview for a given head coaching position this week. They wouldn't be allowed a second interview until either the Panthers lose in the NFC playoffs or in the extra week leading up to the Super Bowl.
PLANNING TO GET AHEAD: Rivera's coaching staff is already in the process of breaking down potential NFC Divisional Playoff opponents. It could be Seattle, Washington or Green Bay – three teams the Panthers beat during the regular season.
"That will make (preparation) a little easier," Rivera said. "We'll have all their regular season games broken down by tonight or early tomorrow."
After an off day Tuesday, Rivera said the team will practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Sunday, the Panthers will find out who they'll face, and the coaches will get ready to present the game plan.
"The coaches will come in on Sunday to make sure everything is in line," Rivera said. "We'll bring the players in Monday to do an early introduction."
View the top photos by photographer Kent Smith from Carolina's game against Tampa Bay.