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Carolina Panthers

Frank Reich keeps things level by being "a genuine cat"

Frank Reich

CHARLOTTE — Make no mistake, that celebration last Sunday was real. It also happens to be over.

As a team has grown to learn head coach Frank Reich and understand his patterns and priorities and things he values, they're finding out in a hurry that as high of a high as last Sunday might have been, they're right back to his baseline when they walked back in on Wednesday.

And that baseline is right back to where they were last Wednesday.

"He's very level," outside linebacker Brian Burns said. "I played for a lot of coaches; I've seen the ups and downs, or a guy that's too chill, or a guy that's, you know, overzealous. So I kind of put Frank in that medium area.

"He doesn't get too down, he doesn't get too high. Just stays level-headed throughout everything."

That's an important skill to have in any walk of life, but particularly in football, in which the length of the season and the number of variables that have to be managed make overreacting to any of them dangerous.

So, while there were many more positive plays to look at when the Panthers reconvened after their first win of the season, there was exactly as much emphasis put on the things they had to clean up, of which there were also plenty.

"The way our procedure works, come in there, go through our game review, and then I'm going to show tape for 30 or 45 minutes and we're going to correct every mistake," Reich said. "We're going to show the good things too. So we're just going to let the tape talk, and we're going to be very, very demanding.

"We're going to be very critical about because our mission is how we're going to get better today when we watch this tape as coaches and players. So, really, when that tape is over, there should be a little bit of an attitude: Did we win or did we lose that game? I don't know; when you go over the tape, it feels the same. Maybe when you win, there's a few more good plays, but you're correcting the bad plays just as hard as you do in a loss."

Brian Burns, Frank Reich

That kind of perspective only comes with time and wisdom. That's part of the reason Reich shrugged off the questions about his time in Indianapolis. (He was fired after nine games last year.) He acknowledged that change is part of what comes with this league.

But the notion of being the same person every day is pervasive, and there are reminders of it, just in case. There's a mural of Steve Smith in the team meeting room with the words "Stay ready so you don't have to get ready," and as players walk out to practice, they pass a sign that reads 0-0 as a subtle reminder. Reich's not a big slogan-and-prop guy, and the fact that this is who he is has landed with them during a difficult start to the season. Locker rooms can tell when it's an act.

"He's a genuine cat, in my eyes," Burns said. "He's real. Like, I don't see any cap in what he tells me, what he tells anybody, really.

"So, I mean, genuine to me. And I feel like everything he said, he means, so I could ride with that."

It also helps that the Panthers have had a little positive reinforcement recently. It's easy to talk about being the same guy every day, but when you start the season 0-6, it's possible to wonder what the consistency is pointing toward.

Veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston also played for Reich in Indianapolis, so he's well-versed in it, and said: "You'll never know what's going on with him because he's so even-keeled."

But he also acknowledged that the Panthers needed last week's win for a number of reasons.

"It's so much easier because you see the results, and you appreciate the results when you get a win," Houston said. "But when you're putting in the work, and you don't get your results, that's like anything else in life. It's hard to stay focused on that grind. It's hard to keep digging for that goal, and you see things not lining up where you're playing for.

"When you see the results, it's easy to keep going."

Now that they've got one, the challenge is to build on it and apply the same lessons.

"I think that's a hallmark of a mature team is the ability to win, lose, or draw, putting the last week's performance behind you take from what you can," punter Johnny Hekker, a 12-year veteran, All-Decade performer, and one of the guys around here with a Super Bowl ring (from his days with the Rams) said.

That means bringing it back to zero each Wednesday.

I think we've been critical of ourselves in the meeting room and just being real about it," Hekker said. "Yeah, we won. Thank goodness we can look back on this from this side of the win column. But it's just, it's a deal where you really have to come back and level-set. Look at the things that could have potentially lost us the game and make sure that we do our best to change those things in the future."

Asked if that's harder after a win or a loss, Hekker laughed and said: "I guess we'll see."

Likewise, longtime long snapper JJ Jansen has been around it long enough to know that what seems normal sometimes runs counter to the realities of a long season.

"I think where it shows up is in your ability to prepare for the next game," Jansen said. "I think human nature is if I lost or I didn't play my best, I'm going to work harder, whether that is in the weight room, in the classroom, in my sleep and eating. Like there was something that I personally didn't do that caused maybe a negative performance or didn't help our team win. I'm going to double down on my work when you win.

"I think there is a sense of relief because it's such a week-to-week league. And I think the second piece is what I did last week was enough to win. Therefore, I'm going to do the exact same thing, and we talk about routine all the time, and that's important.

"But I think there's also an element of, well, I can cheat that just a little bit because what I did last week was very hard, and it feels hard in the moment to keep that sustainable. So being the same guy is understanding, win or lose, I have to decide that what I'm doing to prepare is what's putting me in the best position to win. And if I lose, I want to re-evaluate that process.

"So I just think it's learning the habits that create long-term success from the players and from the coaches."

That's why when the players walk in from practice, that sign they walked by on their way out will say 1-0. It's a reminder to each of them, in an unspoken way, that what happens on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday leads to the things they want to see on Sunday.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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