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Carolina Panthers

Improved execution a team effort


CHARLOTTE - In the second half of Sunday's 33-20 victory over the Washington Redskins, the Carolina Panthers looked like a different team.

Monday, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera gave the entire team credit for the turnaround – both his players and his coaching staff.

"When you watch it on tape, we made some good adjustments, but there was some great execution," Rivera said. "There were some good adjustment by our coaches, and I think the players handled those adjustments well."

Despite problems with penalties and red-zone execution, the Panthers led 9-6 at halftime. They still had penalty issues in the second half but rendered them moot with their level of play, and red-zone concerns dissipated when the first three drives of the half produced touchdowns.

Rivera said the halftime adjustments started with coaches coming up with calls for the offensive line that better fit the Redskins' varied defensive alignments.

The execution of the adjustments, however, came from all corners.

"Some of the catches that Steve (Smith) made were outstanding, and the touchdown run that Cam (Newton) made was great," Rivera said. "Defensively, we gave up a touchdown that I really wasn't happy about, but guys were making plays with two forced fumbles and an interception."

A day after the victory, Rivera appeared pleased but not satisfied.

"There's a lot of room for improvement," he said. "We can most certainly play better."

CAM-ERA READY: Newton has a charisma about him that's difficult to describe.

Rivera said he's come across just one other player with that certain something.

"Walter Payton," he said, comparing Newton to the Hall of Fame running back that was Rivera's teammate with the Chicago Bears. "There's something about guys like that that's special. They love practicing, love meeting, love just coming here and being here.

"Walter was the same way. He loved being at the facility, loved practice, loved being with his teammates. He treated everybody with the same amount of respect. They both had the same attitude about losing – they hate losing, and everything they did was to win. They've always been winners."

Newton displayed hi charm multiple times Sunday – in both light-hearted moments and hard-hitting ones. Newton thrilled a kid in the front row by giving him the football after his 16-yard touchdown run, and he treated a midair tackle that sent him flying out of bounds like a thrill ride.

"It's infectious, and you want that kind of feeling all the time," Rivera said. "Hopefully, that transcends what we are as a football team and spreads to the guys."


RECEIVING ACCOLADES: Wide receiver Brandon LaFell entered the Redskins game with just two catches for 32 yards in his last two games.

His numbers seemed similarly modest against Washington – two catches for 39 yards – but they were not.

LaFell's 37-yard reception on the Panthers' first offensive snap of the second half was a step away from becoming a 53-yard touchdown, and he later did get into the end zone on a 2-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter that sealed the win.

"It was really pleasing to see Brandon get opportunities and then take advantage," Rivera said. "It's great that he continues to grow in his role in what we do and the way he does things."

LaFell called the touchdown a "gimee," saying the Redskins were in a defense that opened the door for his catch. He said he should have scored on the long pass but stepped out of bounds.

Still, it certainly beat his previous two games.

"This is me just trying to grow week in and week out," LaFell said.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Panthers' previous three games had left a sour taste in their mouths and left them starving for the kind of success they savored Sunday.

"It's great," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I usually have food catered for us to tailgate afterwards so our families can hang out, but the attendance has been poor lately. Now, I'll probably have too many people.

"Every since the beginning of camp, this group has worked hard and fought and scratched. It's so rewarding to get the win."

The victory was fulfilling, but it wasn't filling. Gross said he's already looking forward to next Sunday's visit by the Minnesota Vikings.

"Hopefully, we can carry the momentum into next week and go into the bye 3-5, then see what happens from there," Gross said.

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